At 93, researcher John Codington continues his life's work

By Mary Loftus | Office of Technology Transfer | Jan. 16, 2013

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John Codington, senior research associate, hopes to develop a better, more reliable and consistent way to detect most cancers, preferably at the earliest stages.

Having peppermint tea and crackers at a small table in the break room of the Whitehead Biomedical Research Building, Senior Research Associate John Codington looks out the window onto a crisp November day. The ninety-three-year-old chemist is wearing an orange sweater bright enough to eclipse the fall foliage. He has his own lab space just down the hall, where he comes nearly every day to work in cancer research.

The railroad tracks running by the Depot are just visible through the trees. "That used to be a passenger stop when I went to school here," he says. Codington’s journey has taken him full circle, from Atlanta, where his family moved when he was one, to college at Emory, to the University of Virginia’s malaria research program, to the National Institutes of Health, to Europe, to faculty positions at Cornell and Harvard, to private biotech companies, and back to Emory.

His primary research concerns the chemical changes in cell surface glycoproteins associated with immunoresistance in tumor cells, and his goal is to develop a diagnostic assay of sera to detect the presence of a carcinoma (cancer found in epithelial tissues). He hopes to develop a better, more reliable, and consistent way to detect most cancers, preferably at the earliest stages. "The test must be robust and suitable for clinical use," he says.

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