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Working toward a cure

June 8, 2009

Leah Kay of Dassel studies cancer research at the Mayo Clinic

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

DASSEL, MN - Instead of spending her summer days at the beach or at the family cabin, 2006 Dassel-Cokato graduate, Leah Kay will be helping to find a cure for cancer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Kay, who just completed her junior year at Concordia College in Moorhead, will be spending 10 weeks working with top-notch researchers and scientists through the Mayo Clinic’s Summer Undergraduate Fellowship Program (SURF).

“It’s a great opportunity. I wasn’t expecting to get a position since it’s highly competitive,” Kay said.

Kay was one of 105 students chosen by the Mayo Clinic for the SURF program. There were a total of 933 applicants from across the country who applied, according to Glenda Mueller, student recruitment programs coordinator for Mayo.

Since the Mayo Clinic has such a good relationship with Concordia and its students, the college was invited to nominate eight students for the program this year, more than in the past, according to Kay.

The clinic would then select the top four, if not more. Six Concordia students who applied to the SURF program were selected – the most from any school in the program, according to Kay.

During her studies at the Mayo Clinic, Kay will be working under a graduate researcher and describes what she will be doing as part of the SURF program:

“At the Mayo Clinic, my project involves the study of the measles virus, an important human pathogen,” Kay said.

“In particular, I am studying the entry mechanism of the measles virus into cells.

“This is important in order to understand how the measles virus infects and spreads in humans.

“In addition, understanding the molecular details of how the virus enters cells will allow us to modify it to enter only targeted cells,” Kay said.

Mayo researchers are currently re-engineering the measles virus to target it specifically to cancer cells, thus killing these cells, with the hopes that in the future, this process may prove to be a promising therapy for cancer, according to Kay.

Though only in her first week, Kay has enjoyed the professionalism she has encountered with Mayo employees and the students (undergraduate, graduate, etc.).

“They are truly dedicated to their patients,” she said.

Being one of the top-ranked hospitals in the country by US News and World Reports – only second to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore – the Mayo Clinic is a high-tech institution that Kay feels fortunate to be learning from.

The Mayo Clinic works to keep not only its patients happy, but its employees, as well, Kay said.

The Mayo Clinic is rated number 63 on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for 2009.

“I love it,” Kay said of the SURF program and the opportunity to study at the Mayo Clinic.

The program runs through Aug. 7 and is fairly intense. Kay will be working in the laboratory daily from about 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., but the hours are flexible as long as the work gets done, Kay said.

Kay is working toward a major in biology and a minor in chemistry.

With this experience, Kay hopes to attend graduate school and work in research of infectious diseases or gene therapy.

With the inspiration of her Concordia professors, Kay also likes the idea of teaching undergraduates and is keeping her options open, she said.


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