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From Kamenica to the USA: The Girl Investigating Early Cancer Detection


A single lemon transformed the life of Esma Fera, a young woman from the village of Karaçevë e Poshtme in Kamenica municipality. Her curiosity about molecules, DNA, and genetics led her to conduct an experiment on this fruit at home using tools provided by her biology teacher. This experiment, which Esma carried out in 2019 as an 11th-grade student, convinced her that her passion for molecules and genetics could only be fully pursued in a developed country like the USA.

Today, Esma is in her fourth year of Molecular Biology studies at the University of New Haven in Connecticut and is a researcher at Yale University, focusing on the early detection of ovarian cancer.

The experiment involved isolating DNA from a lemon. “After the experiment, it was an indescribable feeling because what we learned in class finally started to make sense in real life. This made me realize that if I continued to study something related to biology in Kosovo, it would be very difficult to have this kind of access to science” she says.

According to Esma, her school did not offer the opportunities needed to follow her passion for molecules. “Even though I was in the 11th grade, I started reading university-level literature on genetics. I read about various experiments in genetics, but we couldn’t perform them in the lab. So, I watched the experiments on YouTube” she explains.

Esma’s dream is being pursued in the USA, thanks to various scholarships, family support, donations, and her hard work. She admits that the biggest challenge has been adapting to a completely new academic system. “The education system and the collaborative relationship between professors and students here have impressed me. Professors are the best mentors if a student wants a very successful career, and they mentor you not only during your professional and academic development but also after you graduate” says Esma.

This mentorship led Esma to join her professor and, as part of a program at Yale University, become part of a team researching the early detection of ovarian cancer. “The work we do at Yale involves detecting specific genes that play a crucial role in identifying this cancer. We have already discovered one gene and are conducting various experiments to gather data and hope to publish an article” she shares.

Esma’s day begins early with preparations for lectures. After lectures, she takes on the role of a teaching assistant for Molecular Biology. She spends the rest of her day in the lab and dedicates her evenings to assignments, studies, and projects. “The education system here keeps students engaged all the time, and when you have other commitments like work and scientific research, time management has to be top-notch” she notes.

According to her, researching cancer is not easy, but the cause is greater than the challenge. “The science we do is definitely very interesting. It’s not something you do every day, but every day you explore different things. It is undoubtedly very challenging, but knowing the contribution you make is a phenomenal feeling” she says.

Being thousands of kilometers away from her family, Esma admits that she often misses her parents. “In the first year, it was something I didn’t expect to be so hard. But now, in the fourth year, I know how to balance myself. When you’re busy with lots of studies and work, you don’t think about it as much, but when weekends or spring or fall breaks come, it’s a bit harder because you see everyone going home to their families” she explains.

She firmly believes that her success is not hers alone but also the result of her parents’ efforts and support, who she says have been her “greatest support.” “I believe they are happy that our joint efforts are being rewarded. Especially, they feel happy that I have the opportunity to make a significant contribution on a global level in the field of science.

The knowledge she has gained from her studies at New Haven, her internship at the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and her research at Yale, Esma plans to one day bring back to Kosovo. “I plan to gain work experience, then pursue doctoral studies in America, but the idea is always to return to Kosovo. In Kosovo, there is a lack of collaboration between hospitals, universities, and students, and I think this needs to be linked. Who will link it, I don’t know yet, but I would be very happy to be part of it” she says.

For young people who want to pursue scientific research, she advises them not to give up even if results sometimes don’t turn out as expected. “In science, we don’t always get the results we expect. Remember that researching means creating new knowledge because what you are researching is not yet known to the public. Therefore, it is not easy to create knowledge; science has challenges. You might conduct a research project and not get results, but you should not stop. You need to know the contribution you are making to the world with what you do, and that is something you should not forget” she emphasizes./EvropaeLire

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