SPHS 1 8 16 Lee Summer Fellowship news

SPHS Student Awarded Lee Summer Student Research Fellowship

Traditionally, the pharmacist’s role revolved around dispensing drugs per instructions on a prescription and ensuring the delivery of medications to patients. As the healthcare system has evolved towards a more team-based approach, however, pharmacists have increasingly taken on greater responsibilities alongside other healthcare providers, including a more hands-on approach in their role as health advocates for their patients.1 The changing healthcare system, alongside the burgeoning biotechnology field, has demanded that pharmacists take more active roles in patient care, including a more comprehensive understanding of the drug therapies they administer to ensure maximum effectiveness in each individual patient. KGI’s innovative PharmD program exposes students to careers outside of traditional roles in retail pharmacy to ones in biotechnology, drug discovery, and pharmacogenomics, helping students connect with leading research that is changing the way that drugs are discovered and developed.

This emerging role for pharmacists is exactly what second-year School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (SPHS) student Kim Nguyen envisioned when she began her four-year journey at KGI. Kim applied for and received funding from the Lee Summer Student Fellowship program of the Southern California Research Center for ALPD & Cirrhosis to investigate the role that mitochondria morphology plays in modulating alcohol metabolism by altering mitochondrial respiration. The Lee Summer Student Fellowship program, implemented in 2001 with funds donated by Dr. Sheng-Pu Lee, was designed to provide hands-on training for undergraduate and graduate students interested in gaining more exposure to the sciences and laboratory medicine. Students can tackle any variety of research projects revolving around the center’s mission of elucidating mechanisms by which ethanol sensitizes and primes the liver and pancreas to diseases.

Alcohol-a metabolic stress-in its interaction with secondary factors such as diet, concomitant use of drugs, viral hepatitis infection, and gender, is thought to play a critical role in the manifestation of alcoholic liver and pancreatic diseases (ALPDs). Kim’s goal during the full-time, eight week summer program was to study the effects of chronic alcohol feeding on how mitochondria change, re-model, and adapt. More specifically, Kim analyzed and evaluated mitochondrial fusion dynamics and morphological changes upon MCF-7 mitofusin Mfn-1 and Mfn-2 siRNA transfection and recorded how alcohol metabolism was altered following these changes.  Kim conducted her research in Dr. Derick Han and Dr. Samit Shah’s labs, where she altered genes that modify mitochondria fusion and fission, silencing genes to change the shape of the mitochondria to see how alcohol metabolism was subsequently affected.

Kim always knew her future would be in healthcare but, before coming to KGI, wasn’t sure which area specifically. After finishing her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from UCLA, Kim realized that a PharmD program would help to further cultivate her passion for genetics and the field of pharmacogenomics. After learning about KGI’s PharmD program and its focus on pharmacogenomics in some of its curriculum, Kim knew the school would be an excellent fit. Says Kim about her fellowship opportunity, “I enjoy research and plan to pursue a pharmacy career path that will allow my continued involvement in research. Research gives you the opportunity to learn new things, use your problem-solving skills, and most importantly, it challenges you. It tests your patience and showcases how you can overcome problems when faced with frustration.”

Kim’s research advisor Dr. Han adds: “Kim is a hard-worker who is very driven and loves research. It’s important for pharmacy students to know they, too, can get fellowships. It’s a great way to showcase important research and to let other students know about opportunities available to them. The many great opportunities for all students, including SPHS students, are what distinguishes KGI’s program from others. KGI gives students the opportunity to explore areas like pharmacogenomics and biotechnology, not just retail pharmacy.

“Because of the lengthy research process, it’s too soon to conclude anything specifically from Kim’s summer project. Dr. Han states: “Kim made some major contributions to a paper that was recently submitted to the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology regarding how mitochondria changes with alcohol feeding in the liver. What we found was that the mitochondria get better, because they have to metabolize alcohol, making the liver more efficient. The liver must up-regulate certain genes to adapt to the stress that alcohol presents.”

For students who are interested in getting more involved with research but aren’t sure where to start, Kim offers some personal wisdom: “If you are really passionate about something, you will find yourself going all out with it because, ultimately, it’s what makes you happy. True passion will be the fuel for your ambitions, regardless of what they are, driving you forward and bringing you happiness.”

Click here to learn more about the Lee Summer Student Fellowship program.

 Click here to learn more about The Southern California Research Center for ALPD & Cirrhosis.


1.        http://www.nacds.org/pdfs/comm/2014/pharmacist-role.pdf

2.       http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-94-015-8135-6_16