2021 University Scholars Align Research with School of Pharmacy

UConn’s 2021 University Scholars include two students with majors in Molecular and Cell Biology and one working towards a Pharm.D. As University Scholars, Suzannah De Almeida, Maria Latta, and Seema Patel are all taking advantage of the depth and breadth of research being done by Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacy Practice faculty within the School of […]

University Scholars

2021 University scholars L-R, Maria Latta, Suzannah De Almeida, and Seema Patel.

UConn’s 2021 University Scholars include two students with majors in Molecular and Cell Biology and one working towards a Pharm.D. As University Scholars, Suzannah De Almeida, Maria Latta, and Seema Patel are all taking advantage of the depth and breadth of research being done by Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacy Practice faculty within the School of Pharmacy.

“We are excited and encouraged to be seeing benefit from UConn’s efforts to encourage students to work and research across Schools and Colleges,” says José Manautou, Head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

“Research with our School of Pharmacy faculty is a campus-wide opportunity for strong undergraduate involvement in basic, clinical, and translational research. These students’ projects illustrate the breath of research disciplines within and aligned to pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacy research,” says Brian Aneskievich, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Honors Advisor.

Congratulations and best of luck in research to the Suzannah, Maria, and Seema!

Suzannah De Almeida, (B.S., 2022)

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Title: Novel Epigenetic Therapeutics of Opioid Use Disorder

Committee: Gregory Sartor, Pharmaceutical Sciences (chair); Nathaniel Rickles, Pharmacy Practice; and Barbara Mellone, Molecular and Cell Biology

Suzannah De Almeida is currently majoring in Molecular Cell Biology with a chemistry minor on a pre-med track. When asked about receiving the honor, Suzannah said, “I would like to extend my dearest gratitude to my committee, especially Dr. Gregory Sartor (chair) from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, for welcoming me into the Sartor Lab and for all of his continuous guidance throughout this project.” Her project, Novel Epigenetic Therapeutics of OUD, is continuing research from the Sartor Lab which has revealed that a class of epigenetic proteins called BET bromodomains are involved in rodent models of cocaine-seeking behaviors. Suzannah’s research will expand on these discoveries by identifying a role for BET proteins in animal models of OUD. Dr. Sartor, chair of Suzannah’s project committee, said, “Suzannah will receive hands-on experience in sophisticated molecular and behavioral studies aimed at identifying novel treatments for opioid use disorder. With this comprehensive approach, Suzannah will be able to better understand the underlying causes of addiction and the process of developing and testing new therapeutics for opioid use disorder.”

Maria Latta (Pharm.D., 2024)

Major: Doctor of Pharmacy

Project Title: Drugs, Information, and Innovation: How Can Pharmacists Improve Patient Knowledge of Opioids?

Committee: Nathaniel Rickles, Pharmacy Practice (chair); Tiffany Kelley, Nursing; and David Noble, Management.

Maria Latta is an honors Pharm.D. student at the School of Pharmacy. When asked about her project, Maria said, “My project is focused on identifying unmet needs in accessing opioid education and developing a theoretical model for the medication information delivery process. I want to apply these findings by creating an online opioid education tool that can be tailored to the needs of each patient.” Maria gives credit to her mentors for being able to carry out this multidisciplinary project at the intersection of pharmacy, innovation, entrepreneurship, and research. Dr. Rickles, chair of Maria’s project, said, “I have always been impressed with Maria’s true dedication to learning and applying her pharmacy knowledge to real-world challenges with medication use such as how culture and income affect the medication use experience. Her proposed work for the University Scholars program will allow Maria to bring such energy to her explorations of what the gaps are in opioid medication education and how an innovative approach in the delivery of opioid medication education can resolve those gaps and improve opioid knowledge, intention to access opioid information, and other patient-centered outcomes.”

Seema Patel (B.S., 2022)

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology

Project Title: Translesion Synthesis Inhibitors: A New Class of Cancer Chemotherapeutics

Committee: Kyle Hadden, Pharmaceutical Sciences (chair); Ashis Basu, Chemistry; and Charles Giardina, Molecular and Cell Biology.

Seema Patel is a Rowe Scholar majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology with a minor in Healthcare Management and Insurance Studies. Seema has been working in the Hadden Lab at the UConn School of Pharmacy where she investigates the inhibition of a DNA repair mechanism called translesion synthesis (TLS). She has focused on the development and testing of potent anti-cancer drugs that disrupt a specific protein-protein interaction, termed Rev7/Rev3, of the TLS machinery. Using in vitro approaches, Seema has identified three novel TLS Rev7/Rev3 inhibitors and is currently characterizing their inhibitory potential in an ovarian cancer cell model for her University Scholar project. Seema received the 2020 SURF grant for which she wrote a review paper on the development of TLS inhibitors published in the journal: Expert Opinion on Investigational Drugs. Dr. Hadden, chair of Seema’s project, said, “[Seema] has worked in my lab since the spring semester of her freshman year and during that time has made many significant contributions to our research. Her work focuses on identifying and developing small molecule inhibitors of translesion synthesis (TLS), which is an important cellular mechanism that helps tumors become resistant to first-line cancer chemotherapeutics.”

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