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Somers Junior Wins Two Science Awards

A Somers High School junior was recently awarded two separate honors for her research on immunotherapy cancer treatment. Gabby Susca, a Science Research student, received the Innovations in Biological Sciences Research Award at the Westchester Science and Engineering Fair. She was also awarded a $1000 Nurturing & Empowering Women Through STEM scholarship, established by Cognitive Consulting to promote greater diversity in the STEM field.

“Gabby is a very driven, motivated, and passionate student,” says Science Research teacher William Maelia. “Her curiosity will take her far in her scientific endeavors.”

Gabby’s research project is centered on improving the versatility and patient response to a new kind of cancer treatment. The official name is Identifying genetic markers of response from CAR T cell pre-infusion products in responding/non-responding CLL patients to determine methods of modulating expression of these genes. She chose this topic for its potential to surpass conventional cancer treatment.

“CAR T cell therapy is currently used but it needs to be improved,” says Susca. “There are issues with creating memory cells, and I identified a gene that is involved in a pathway that deals with memory T cell formation.”

This is Susca’s first year competing in science competitions, made even more challenging by the pandemic and lack of access to laboratories. She was originally accepted to a program at Sloane Kettering Memorial Hospital but that was opportunity was canceled due to COVID-19.

“So I sent an email to Dr. Joseph Melenhorst at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Cellular Immunotherapies,” says Susca. “He agreed to let me work with him virtually on data analysis.”

In addition to dancing since she was three years old, Susca recently started running track. She has her eye on a career in surgery and research. In the meantime, she is most excited about returning to school full time to see her friends.