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Students Shape Research Careers In Explorers and Scholars Program

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Written by: Nicole Carrera

Published: November 9, 2021

Total reading time: 3 minutes

Editor's note: This article was written prior to University of the Sciences' merger with and into Saint Joseph's University and does not reflect the current, combined institution. References to programs, offices, colleges, employees, etc., may be historical information.

While many college students may spend their summers working a part-time job for extra cash or hanging with friends by the pool, for many USciences students, the time is used to focus on shaping their interest and future careers in research. A novel program -- Explorers and Scholars -- allows students in the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences the funding to focus on research in a lab throughout the summer no matter the topic or field of study.

Jessica Shaw PH/TX'24After her passion for science was sparked during high school, Jessica Shaw '24 (PH/TX) came to USciences and was eager to get to work. She took part in hands-on research over the summer semester, working with Asha Suryanarayanan, PhD, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences.

“The project was based on understanding the role of ion channel receptors in breast cancer,” Shaw said. “By understanding the role of ion channels and where they are localized in cells, we seek a way to regulate their expression and decrease the growth of triple negative breast cancer.”

This research puts science one step closer to understanding triple negative breast cancer, an exceptionally aggressive form of cancer.

’’Elena Ferreras PH/TX24 When Elena Ferreras '24 (PH/TX) first came to USciences, she was immediately interested in getting research experience as an undergraduate. She spent the summer working with Jason Wallach, PhD, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, studying the effects of different compounds on serotonin receptors in the brain.

“Serotonin receptors have a major impact on depression, addiction, and many other neurological processes, including some that we have yet to discover,” Ferreras said. “If we can figure out how to control these receptors, especially when they’re malfunctioning, it would give us a great advantage in treating many disorders.”

The research done in Dr. Wallach’s lab works towards drug development for many different disorders.

Both Shaw and Ferreras were accepted into Philadelphia College of Pharmacy’s Explorers and Scholars in Science program to help them pursue their research. Explorers and Scholars is unique to the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences for students in the pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacology toxicology undergraduate programs.

With the help of faculty mentors and funding, selected students conduct eight weeks of research during the summer following their first undergraduate year. At the end of the research experience, students present their research at a summer research symposium. Participating students often continue their research with their faculty mentors into the academic year, giving them a chance to build on their research and skills throughout their time at the University and into their futures.

The research conducted by faculty members in the department of pharmaceutical sciences spans many different topics and fields of study, which helps provide students with many options to pursue their own interests. While Shaw and Ferreras studied very different topics during their time in the program, the outcome is still the same.

“Working in Dr. Wallach’s lab over the summer and then carrying that into the fall semester has given me an incredible foundation of practical knowledge and applications that I can use in my future career, as well as a wonderful network of colleagues to support me,” said Ferreras.

“I believe this research experience through the Explorers and Scholars program is invaluable,” said Shaw of the program. “Getting to spend time in the lab, learning important techniques and how to communicate with the graduate students and faculty will help me with my future.”