One Year OutYasmine Abbey ’16Research Fellow at the National Cancer Institute
Yasmine Abbey ’16 says she’s wanted to be a doctor for as long as she can remember. One of her first clear memories is playing with a tiny, toy stethoscope when she was 4 or 5 years old.
Abbey is well on her way to achieving her goal. She graduated from Vassar last year with a degree in biochemistry and has secured a two-year fellowship as a researcher at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD. Completion of the fellowship includes a master’s degree in biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University. She plans to enroll in medical school in the fall of 2018.
Abbey is part of a team of researchers seeking to develop a drug to combat prostate cancer. Her current project involves testing the effectiveness of various antibodies in combating certain kinds of cancer, using a protein called CD97. Previous work has demonstrated that when CD97 interacts with the platelets, the tumor can metastasize, spreading to other parts of the body. Abbey’s research team is seeking to identify antibodies that can stop this interaction. “We are focused on identifying a therapeutic blocking antibody against CD97, a receptor found on tumor cells that can interact with platelets in blood cells,” she explains.
Recently, Abbey and her team tested more than 500 such antibodies, searching for 10 that performed most effectively. “We had two weeks to test all of them, so we were on a pretty tight schedule, working weekends as well,” she says. “But it’s really rewarding to think that something you tested in lab might help some cancer patient somewhere five or 10 years from now.”
A native of Benin, West Africa, Abbey moved to Brownsville, TX, with her family when she was a young child. She earned an associate’s degree at the University of Texas at Brownsville before enrolling at Vassar through the QuestBridge program, which links high-achieving students with scholarship opportunities at leading colleges and universities.
“It’s really rewarding to think that something you tested in a lab might help some cancer patient somewhere five or 10 years from now.”
“I chose Vassar because it had the best financial aid package and because I loved the campus and the people there,” she says, “and I chose biochemistry as a major because I liked the balance between pure chemistry and the study of the physiology of the body.” Abbey praised Prof. Sarjit Kaur and Associate Prof. Teresa Garrett for guiding her “through a really rigorous curriculum. They were true mentors who helped and inspired me.”
In conjunction with her major in biochemistry, Abbey earned a minor in creative writing, and she continues to write poems and some works of fiction when she has the time.
Abbey says she’s certain the skills she’s acquiring in the lab at the cancer research facility will enhance her preparation for medical school. “I received a good foundation of lab skills at Vassar, but I’m working with some more sophisticated equipment here,” she says.
Abbey says she had been interested for some time in pursuing a specialty in oncology when she graduates from medical school, “and now, more than ever, it’s something I really want to do.”
She says she also hopes to remain active in the research side of medicine as well. “Whether it’s taking part in clinical trials or managing the process of how a drug is put on the market, it’s something I’d like to add to my medical practice,” she says. “This entire experience has been super-interesting work that’s been genuinely gratifying. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”