USAP Alumni are putting their education, skills and experience to work to fight COVID-19 however and wherever they can. In this blog series, we will be highlighting their efforts. The blog below comes from USAP alumna Clarety Kaseke who is working on the quest for a COVID-19 vaccine at the Ragon Insitute of Massachusetts General Hospital.
“After graduating with a BA in Biochemistry from Barnard College last year, I was eager to start research on developing a therapeutic T cell vaccine for HIV/AIDS in the Walker lab at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. I wanted to contribute to this research not only because Sub-saharan Africa accounts for almost 70% of the global burden of the HIV epidemic, but it was also a step towards affecting change on Zimbabwe’s ailing healthcare system through science.
Little did I know that less than a year later, I would be working on a novel virus that has led to unparalleled international unrest because of its rapid spread. I was, of course, aware of other pandemics that have hit the world in the past, but never had I imagined that I would witness the gravity of such on both a personal and professional level. I am dismayed by the disruption to daily routines that the pandemic has caused and the sad reality that I will not be able to watch my best friend walk on her graduation. However, it is this personal dismay, coupled with our dedication at the Ragon Institute, to contribute to efforts aimed at alleviating global disease that inspired us to channel the progress that we have made so far with HIV towards developing a vaccine for COVID-19.
I am currently working with Dr. Gaurav Gaiha, who has a long history of working with USAPers, on employing his recently published structure-based network approach to identify potential epitopes that can be used for a COVID-19 T cell vaccine. It is daunting to wake up every day and venture into the streets of Cambridge as I head to work. Still, there is an unparalleled drive that arises from knowing that you’re doing the best you can, with concerted efforts from like-minded people, to help bring back life as we know it.”
Clarety Kaseke attended Seke High School before entering the USAP program. She earned a full scholarship to Barnard College in New York City from where she graduated in 2019 with a BSc in Biochemistry. Clarety was a Rhodes Scholar finalist and plans to pursue a career in biomedical research and medical practice that impacts Zimbabwe and Africa.