Emma Golden in the lab

Emma Golden in the lab with Dr. Jessica Heath. Photo: Sally McKay.

Philosophy major shaping our understanding of cancer

At age 7, Emma Golden ’20 lost her best childhood friend to leukemia. “Ever since that moment, I knew I wanted to be a doctor,” she says. Golden also enjoyed studying the humanities in Evergreen, Colo., where she went to high school.

The arts and sciences came together for Golden at UVM, where she’s majoring in philosophy and taking a heavy course load in biology and chemistry. The combination, she thinks, is giving her perspective on the ethics of medicine as she explores questions about what science is and how we know it’s trustworthy.

Golden is also taking advantage of the many research opportunities she’s finding as an undergraduate. This summer she is working under the supervision of Dr. Jessica Heath, assistant professor in UVM’s Larner College of Medicine. They are trying to unravel the mystery of why adolescents with leukemia generally have a worse prognosis than young children or adults.

“We think the increased levels of hormone activity associated with puberty may affect the growth and likelihood of cancer cells,” Golden explains. “So we investigate cells under different circumstances to see how they react to hormone stimulation.”

Golden’s research is supported by a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) grant, which provides a $4000 stipend plus $1000 for research expenses.

The funding makes it possible for Golden to live in Burlington for the summer and pursue her research full-time, without having to worry about how to pay the bills.

She has access to lab space and meets with Heath weekly to evaluate results and plan new experiments.

“I'm really loving it,” she says. “I feel really fortunate to be able to concentrate on my work in the lab full-time.”

Golden is looking forward to applying to medical school, but first she wants to apply for a Fulbright scholarship to continue her research next year.

“I want to be a physician who can bring a strong understanding of medical ethics to my work, but I also want to be a physician who does research.”