When most students go on summer break, they often spend time traveling, relaxing, catching up on Netflix, and posting pictures of their food on Instagram. For the more scientifically curious students at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFU) College of Pharmacy (COP), summer consists of working in a lab or in front of a computer, compiling data.

The COP hosts an 8-week competitive summer research program where students can spend the season working alongside RFU researchers making new scientific discoveries. The purpose of the program is to give students the opportunity to create new knowledge and explore the research aspect of their future profession.

Dr Eric Walters, COP’s Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, has been the director of the program since its inception in 2012. According to Dr. Walters, students in the program have a wide range of experiences, including “basic science laboratory work...clinical research...social science aspects...and scholarship of teaching and learning.”

Third-year pharmacy student Yelena Yeghoyan focused her 2018 summer research on the social aspect of graduate school. Yeghoyan analyzed use of social media to encourage participation and engagement in the classroom. She said she hoped to find a way that social media can be used to minimize distraction and maximize learning.

It can be difficult to focus at school when Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are just a click away, but according to Yeghoyan, “such distraction can serve a very useful purpose when implemented appropriately and supervised thoroughly by the teacher or the class facilitator.” Students and professors would mutually benefit from a more engaging way of presenting information, she concluded.

Other studies by the COP feature scientific discoveries that can be used to customize medications for patients later on. Bridget Fleming, a third-year pharmacy student, applied her interest in biology to the summer program by examining how cell apoptosis and drug resistance are affected by hTERT translocation into the mitochondria. Although this sounds very abstract to a non-biologist, this knowledge can be used to help patients in the future.

The hTERT enzyme can affect cell survival. For example, cancer patients who have a high amount of this enzyme outside the nucleus can experience drug resistance. Fleming and her team worked to create a yeast model for testing HIV therapies or other medications with this concept in mind.

When asked about her interest in this project, Fleming wrote that she likes working on this topic because “it shows how biology can really affect patients” and she hopes that “one day we can help patients taking specific medications and help the patient either have fewer side effects or have the medication work more effectively.” With pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine taking off, the information from this study can undoubtedly contribute to this growing field.

In addition to advancing the academic community as a whole, the COP summer program at RFU benefits participants by expanding their skills. Dr. Walters noted there are numerous assets to partaking in the program.

“Students have gained experience not only in carrying out research, but in analyzing the...work of others, and seeing how it can be applied to patient care. [They also] have had the opportunity to prepare and present their research at in-house, regional, and national meetings,” Walters said. 

It is exciting that future pharmacists can learn new skills during the summer that will help them in their clinical practice and improve patient care. Thanks to RFU’s commitment to research, the COP contributes to new scientific discoveries that can impact our lives for the better.
 
Betty Derza is a 2020 PharmD candidate at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science College of Pharmacy in Illinois.