School of Pharmacy Labs Host Budding Scientists from Mexican Universities

The USC School of Pharmacy hosted four undergraduate students from Mexico this summer as part of the US-Mexico Commission for Education and Cultural Exchange (COMEXUS), which administers the Fulbright-Garcia Robles Scholarship Program and aims to increase and enhance academic exchange between the two countries.

As a culmination to their summer program at the School of Pharmacy, the COMEXUS students did presentations on their research for a global audience that included USC students and faculty, and visiting students from Japanese and Korean universities.  The global reach extended even further as one of the Mexican presenters worked under the mentorship of a visiting scholar from China throughout the summer. 

photo_29Mariana Ponce de León Rodríguez worked with visiting scholar Zhigang Liu in the laboratory of Professor Enrique Cadenas, the Charles own/Pharmacy Alumni Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences.  Rodríguez, an undergraduate at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, studied the effects of lipoic acid on various types of diets, specifically looking at its effect on synapse elasticity in the brain which impacts learning and memory.

Rodriguez’s summer project was part of ongoing work undertaken in the Cadenas lab that is exploring how obesity effects brain function.  “I was able to learn a great deal in a short period time on the effect of obesity and metabolic syndrome on brain function,” said Rodriguez.  She will also present her research to students and faculty upon her return to Guadalajara.

photo_4Karen Zamora Hernández worked in the laboratory of Associate Professor Paul Beringer whose research  focuses on therapeutic approaches to cystic fibrosis.  The team explored the potential of a RTD-1 as a drug to  combat the effects produced by the lung-damaging disease.

photo_crop18“I have learned a great deal about cystic fibrosis and other pulmonary diseases by working on this project  and have also developed my scientific skills,” said Hernández who is a student at the Universidad La Sallein  Mexico City. A second student from the Universidad La Sallein who participated in the program, Ana  Aurora Dorantes Reyes, did her research project under the mentorship of  Associate Professor Julio Camarero.

While these three students all conducted laboratory bench work during their summer projects, Azucena González Gómez did a computational chemistry project under the mentorship of Associate Professor Ian Haworth.  González Gómez’s project explored RNA aptamers, which are molecules that bind to target molecules, and have broad applications for future diagnostic and therapeutic compounds.

“I will continue to work on this project with Dr. Haworth through distance collaboration when I return to school in Mexico,” said Gómez.  “I will pursue it as my undergraduate thesis.”

Gómez, a student at the Instituto Technológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, ultimately  hopes to become a neuroscientist.  “My brother has multiple sclerosis and someday I hope to find a  cure or treatment for it.”

According to Claudia  Arruñada, a coordinator at COMEXUS who visited the students while at USC, the  summer exchange aims to help these students develop their potential as possible future Fulbright  Fellows who pursue graduate programs at US universities.  “We are part of the binational effort that  aims to bring 100,000 Mexican students to the US over the next four years,” she said.

“Our faculty were very impressed with the visiting students and their work,” said Associate Dean of Global Initiatives Michael Wincor.  “We look forward to continuing this relationship in the future.”

The School of Pharmacy was one of several USC units hosting COMEXUS students this summer.