How Lakeisha "Keisha" Esau Became an Expert in Genotyping
As a child, Lakeisha "Keisha" Esau, Senior Manager, Transgenic Genotyping, VelociGene®, liked to take things apart and put them back together. Twenty-five years ago, Keisha joined Regeneron and put her passion for tinkering and her interest in life sciences to work. Now, she oversees an integral part of our mouse genetics and functional genomics research. This is how she became an expert in genotyping.
What sparked your interest in science?
My curiosity to find out how things worked sparked my interest in science. As a child, I liked to take things apart, figure out how they work, repair them and put them back together — watches, radios, motors. My father was a mechanic and liked to fix things, and he was a significant influence on me. As I grew up, it was the life sciences — not engineering — that spoke to me. And as an only child, working in a lab appealed to my independent nature.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I first joined Regeneron in June 1995, I was a laboratory technician responsible for managing the stockroom. I was also making solutions, ordering supplies, making media and casting agarose gels (that we use for DNA fragments) — all the things we outsource today.
Based on my interests, I sought opportunities to do more. I would go to the specialty lab, collect samples, and bring them back to the lab to extract DNA. I initially learned Southern blotting analysis, which was considered the gold standard genotyping technique. With perseverance and continuous opportunities to grow, I honed my expertise in this field.
What do you do now at Regeneron?
Until about 15 years ago, I was the only colleague performing genotyping. Now, I manage the team that assesses genomic modifications created by VelociGene in all the animal colonies used by the therapeutic focus areas (TFAs) in their research. Genotyping is detecting differences in specific DNA sequences in an organism's unique genome, and all of Regeneron's drug candidates initially start as samples that come through our lab.
We conduct quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays on the samples to calculate copy numbers of specific alleles and synthesize these copy numbers into a final genotype that goes into our reporting system, VelociView®. We collaborate across VelociGene to support teams, like the Animal Production group, who rely on our rapid genotype determination to manage Regeneron's animal colonies. This effort expands every year, both in the complexity of the modifications we analyze and the number of samples we process. In 2020, we conducted almost five million qPCR reactions (about 6,000 samples per week!).
What are your proudest professional accomplishments?
I am most proud of my efforts in spearheading the development of our genotyping platform that helps contribute to the discovery of our medicines. Over the years, I have overseen the creation and refinement of our genotyping approach and introducing increasingly sophisticated laboratory automation. My team has improved and optimized each step, enabling us to have a scale and delivery speed unmatched in our industry.
Day for Doing Good is something I also look forward to each year. In the past, I took part in several efforts, including assembling STEM kits for elementary students and making personal protective equipment (PPE) gowns for a foundation. I love to sew and recently sewed a memorial quilt in honor of my mother, who died in 2019. I also am a member of the R&pD Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. I was one of the first few people of color to join the company, and while our diversity has grown, I'm looking forward to being part of the progress in this area.