The head scarf Jessie Morgan, Ph.D., wears is not a fashion statement. It’s a functional reminder of a personal journey that intersected with her St. Jude career and gave her a new perspective on the importance of her work.
Morgan, a senior scientist in the Quality Control division of Therapeutics Production and Quality in the Children’s GMP, LLC, has dedicated more than half of her life to cancer research. In October 2017, she learned she had cancer.
“The initial fear is real, and you’re just fighting to survive,” Morgan said. “But at the same time, I feel a rush because I know that every day our work is giving someone a chance. When I walk around in the hospital with the head cover on, the patients look at me and they just know that we are actually in the same battle.”
The GMP manufactures and tests therapeutics for use in patients as well as pre-clinical studies. Morgan’s work involves testing various compounds to ensure they meet the Food and Drug Administration’s strict federal regulations.
The GMP is a shielded environment that requires stringent documentation, personal protective equipment and the cleanest air possible to produce and test compounds. Morgan and her colleagues spend most of their time developing new methods, assays and ways to measure the products being made. “Work in the GMP is at a fast pace, so we have to adapt depending on the campaign,” Morgan said.
Morgan began working in the GMP in December 2014. Prior to that, she was a postdoctoral fellow in Pharmaceutical Sciences for two years after earning a doctorate in molecular therapeutics and cell signaling from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Before graduate school, she was a research technician at St. Jude for five years in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Department.
Originally from the Memphis area, Morgan wasn’t sure what track her career would take until early in college when a biology course at Christian Brothers University sparked her interest.
“I enjoy doing research and the job I do at St. Jude,” Morgan said. “We have amazing resources here, and the nice thing is if there is something you don’t know, there is always someone who has an answer or who is willing to help. It makes your work easier because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when someone is willing to help you.”
In the year since being diagnosed, Morgan has found a new appreciation for life and for what patients and families endure when they learn of a cancer diagnosis. Morgan finished her chemotherapy treatment in April and is in remission after a clear scan in May.
“I think I wake up every day with a conscious decision to be happy,” Morgan said. “Happiness doesn't have the same definition from day to day, but it is a new appreciation for my work, my family and for living.”