Lewis Hall Cell Lines: Winter 2013
Saint Leo University
A newsletter to promote a scientific community among the alumni of the Saint Leo University biology, environmental science, and medical technology programs, and to foster the professional development of current science majors.
Alumni Interview: Erica Elwell ’06, Lutz, FL
Interviewed by Laboratory Director and Instructor of Biology Linda Bergen-Losee
Erica Elwell '06
What field of employment are you in?

I’m a cytogenetic technologist. Currently I work for a private lab in the oncology field, testing bone marrow and blood specimens.

Please tell us some of the non-proprietary details of your current work. Your fellow scientists are interested.

As a cytogenetic technologist I started in a prenatal lab, where I mostly worked with chorionic villi and products of conception samples. My first product of conception was a whole fetus the size of your thumb. It was then I realized how important my job was to provide answers to parents. We would break the specimen down into cells, culture the cells for a few days, fix the cells onto a slide, and band them. Once out of the lab, it’s my job to analyze the chromosomes under a microscope for any abnormalities. The most commonly seen disease prenatally is Down syndrome, which simply has an extra number 21 chromosome. We would see some other micro deletions, which caused a wide range of things from severe to mild mental and physical disabilities and deformation.

Now, working in oncology it’s a much wider range and higher percent of abnormalities that I see. My new lab is fully automated, which means no microscope and much more comfort. The machine scans the slide and takes images of metaphases, which I then analyze. With cancer specimens, you see mostly abnormal cases that show if the disease has progressed by showing clonal evolution, whether the disease has a poor or good prognosis by the abnormalities present, or what drug treatment a patient should have by specific chromosome translocations. I have also been dual-trained to work for the FISH (fluorescent in situ hybridization) department. In this department we can be more accurate for specific gene abnormalities that may not be seen with the eye or for some diseases, like multiple myeloma, where it is hard to get the plasma cells to culture and divide. In this process, a florescent probe is attached to a specific gene in interphase. We can see if there is the correct number of genes, and if that gene has fused with another. I was involved in a STAT case where the specimen results were reported out the next day and the patient immediately started treatment, and now has a good prognosis. I love the field I’m in, with an in-demand job that all started with my degree.

How did your degree prepare you for your current job?

My degree was a requirement. At Saint Leo as a biology major, I found I loved microbiology and genetics. My education at Saint Leo gave me the foundation to start my career. I did have to further be enrolled in a year-long training program and pass a board-certified exam to get my licensure.

What is your favorite memory of your time at SLU?

I would have to say Dr. Miller’s botany class. Having lectures outside on a nice day and walking through the woods for exams. I enjoyed it so much, I debated on going into environmental science and working for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

What advice would you offer current SLU biology students?

I would say don’t be discouraged if your dream job doesn’t present itself right away. Get a job in any lab you can. Most places only care about having experience. I started in a chemistry lab testing waste water. I got there by starting in the receiving department and quickly worked up to lab supervisor.


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