Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) is proud to announce that Esther Babady, PhD, D(ABMM), FIDSA, FAAM, Clinical Microbiologist and Chief of the Clinical Microbiology Service, has been selected for the second annual Crain’s New York Business 2021 Empire Whole Health Heroes list. This recognition honors health care, essential and business leaders who demonstrated leadership and commitment to the safety and wellness of New Yorkers as it relates to the revitalization and reopening of New York City.
Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Babady used her vast expertise in clinical microbiology and molecular diagnosis of infectious diseases to keep employees and patients safe.
When tests were extremely scarce in early 2020, Dr. Babady and her team developed New York City’s first FDA- authorized COVID-19 test. It was a race against time – creating a test of this kind would typically take six months to a year, but with Dr. Babady leading the charge, they were able to develop, gain approval and start using the tests in mere weeks. With a test in place, MSK was able to independently test and trace thousands of MSK employees and patients in the New York metropolitan area to ensure the hospital could continue to provide life-saving care to those who needed it most.
To further expediate the testing process and ease the strain nasal swabs were putting on the supply chain due to the amount of PPE healthcare workers were required to wear when collecting these samples, her team went back to the lab to develop a self-collected saliva test. As published in The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, this test proved to be as effective at detecting SARS-CoV-2 as nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs and greatly minimized healthcare worker exposure while also decreasing the need for specialized collection devices, such as swabs and viral transport media. Additionally, when it became clear that SARS-CoV-2 was beginning to mutate, Dr. Babady and her team were at the forefront of testing for numerous variants. They started logging variants found in MSK staff and patients and shared the information with health leaders in New York City, so they could track and trace what variants were in the community.
As a trusted infectious diseases expert, Dr. Babady provided the MSK Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) with vital information about SARS-CoV-2, which in turn helped them implement strict safety measures to keep the doors of the hospital open. She also provided her expertise to various news sources including The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, New York Post and more. Her deep knowledge of infectious diseases and how to detect them helped local and national journalists alike explain to the general population in lay terms how to implement accurate testing protocols and keep themselves and their families safe.
Dr. Babady’s fierce commitment to MSK and the community has kept thousands of New Yorkers healthy and able to continue their cancer screenings and care in the midst of a global pandemic.