DelVal Biology Alumna Aids in Developing Treatment for Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

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Emily Gielda ’17, is a DelVal biology alumna, Drexel College of Medicine graduate student, and ChristianaCare Gene Editing Institute staff scientist, who is currently working on one of the main drugs in the Institute’s pipeline for non-small cell lung cancer. 

DelVal’s award-winning experiential learning program “E360” attracted Gielda to pursue her DelVal degree. Per Gielda’s older sister's advice, she wanted to attend a university that provided her with hands-on experience early. Gielda mentions that DelVal did that by setting her up for success in her career. Initially, she was unsure of what type of science she wanted to pursue, but DelVal’s flexible environment helped her find her passion.

“The hands-on component at DelVal is irreplaceable. You can sit in front of a textbook and learn all the handling techniques, but it’s not until you physically do it that you grow confident in it,” said Gielda. “By the time I was actually applying to jobs, I could say ‘I have hours under my belt already directly handling XYZ species,’ which definitely did set me apart.”

Following graduation, she went into the pharmaceutical industry for preclinical toxicology and safety assessments at Charles River Laboratories, a renowned contract research organization for preclinical toxicology, local to DelVal. Charles River specializes in a variety of preclinical toxicology, phototoxicology, and developmental and reproductive toxicology services for the Pharmaceutical, Medical Device and Biotechnology industries. Then, she worked at Quest Diagnostics for laboratory sales. She is currently working with ChristianaCare Gene Editing Institute. Gielda is one of the staff scientists at the Gene Editing Institute, where she is working on one of the main CRISPR drugs in their pipeline for non-small cell lung cancer.

“The flexibility among the biology department and to learn different disciplines helped clarify the route I wanted to take later on in life,” said Gielda. “The curriculum professors taught me in the classroom, skills in the lab, and the extracurricular research they allowed me to jump on all provided me with skills that I retained and am using to this day.”

Gielda recently expressed her appreciation to two of her professors, Professor Johnston and Dr. Keler, for a phenomenal undergrad experience and for providing her with plenty of room to assist in research opportunities and expand her skill sets. Dr. Li and Dr. Bortnick also provided Gielda with plenty of room for creative thinking while also fostering a problem-solving mentality, both in and out of the lab and classroom environments. Gielda explains that DelVal professors challenge students to figure things out for themselves instead of handing students a template to follow.

“There are a variety of disciplines within the pharmaceutical industry,” advises Gielda. While explaining how she gained traction in the pharmaceutical industry, she mentions the importance of DelVal’s resources and opportunities.

For non-small cell lung cancer, Gielda explains, “We’re treating a mutation that makes the cancer radio- and chemo-resistant using CRISPR technology. So, our goal is to use CRISPR to directly correct this mutation to treat solid tumors within patients. It’s a multifold approach to make patients more sensitive to radio- and chemotherapies.”

She explains that lower amounts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy would be needed for treatment. “Knocking out that mutation will then make them more susceptible to the standard of care treatments and therapies.”

Projected clinical trials are going to start in 2024. She expresses her excitement for this and the simple fact that every day of her work life is filled with a positive atmosphere.  

“When you find the atmosphere that you fit in with, coworkers that mesh with you, and phenomenal supervisors - it just makes all day go great. Everything in your life improves when you find the right fit in your career.”

She enjoys the fast-paced environment in her career field because it’s constantly evolving, providing a new experience every few months with a new drug, a new delivery mechanism, or a new target. The Gene Editing Institute is directly helping patient populations, which fulfills a part of Gielda’s career journey that she hadn’t realized she was missing.

“Don’t be afraid to do the job switch,” says Gielda. “I know a lot of it depends on your support system. You have your fears and hesitations. I almost let that get a hold of me. I kept psyching myself out saying, ‘I have a good job. It pays well. Why would I leave?’ Well, if it doesn't fulfill you, don't be afraid to make that jump.”

Gielda also advises students to go on LinkedIn or Career Builder and take chances, because employers are not looking for you to check all the boxes. They are looking for candidates who check most boxes.

“If you're really emotionally connected to your job, it's not just a nine to five,” says Gielda. “It's something you want to do.”

Headshot of Emily Gielda in a doctors White Coat