Melissa Agnello, PhD, Class of 2015

Melissa AngelloWhen Melissa Agnello came to the school to pursue her PhD, she did not have a clinical background, but soon discovered a passion for clinical research working in Professor Annie Wong-Beringer’s lab.

“I really loved being in her lab,” says Agnello. “I loved the relevance of her research, and that Dr. Wong-Beringer is able to implement our research findings at the Huntington Hospital, where she works as a clinician.”

In Wong-Beringer’s lab, Agnello worked on a study that showing how antibiotic resistance is doing more harm than just making it more difficult to treat patients.

“The overuse of antibiotics could be selecting for more highly virulent strains,” explains Agnello. “We hope to eventually be able to advise clinicians on the best way to treat patients that would avoid these selections. Our research is a call to action to use antibiotics more wisely.”

While a student, Agnello was one of four USC students selected by the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute to participate in their pre-doctoral TL1 Training Program. According to SC-CTSI, this two-year program provides multi-disciplinary, team-based clinical and translational research education to a select group of doctoral students. Trainees acquire the advanced scientific competencies necessary to perform clinical and translational research, including research related to health problems in diverse populations.

The program, funded CTSI and the NIH, includes didactic course work, seminars, career advising and the opportunity to travel to a conference of the trainee’s choice. Upon completion of the program, Agnello received a Certificate in Clinical & Biomedical Investigations from the Keck School of Medicine.

“The training program perfectly complemented my PhD program,” says Agnello. “My PhD program in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics was started with the intention of training translational scientists to solve clinical problems, which is precisely what the CTSI training program also aims to do.”

Wong-Beringer served as Agnello’s primary mentor throughout the program, with Drs. Kathy Rodgers (School of Pharmacy) and Steve Finkel (Dornsife College) serving as her co-mentors.

“The CTSI program gave me the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people – including pre- and post-doctoral students, clinicians and basic scientists,” Agnello says. “It’s a great opportunity to exchange ideas.”

As part of the program, Agnello presented her research at a conference in St. Louis in spring 2014 along with other participants nationwide. In addition to her day-to-day responsibilities in the lab, she also serveed as a mentor, overseeing a full-time undergraduate student.

While she is still not sure of her ultimate career goal, Agnello, who completed her PhD in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics in 2015, sees herself working for the government.

“My dream job is to work for the Center for Disease Control, working to combat infectious diseases.”

Postscript: In fall 2015, Agnello was awarded a T90 training grant and is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Dr. Wenyuan Shi, UCLA School of Dentistry.