By David Zong
Students of the PharmD Class of 2024 presented 60 original projects at the annual Scholarly Project Symposium on March 24, 2023. The scholarly project is a required component of the PharmD curriculum at USC Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Students—individuals and teams—gathered data, conducted research, and presented their findings to fellow students, faculty and judges.
The projects encompass a wide variety of disciplines, from scientific and clinical inquiries to community and epidemiological research. Students worked with project advisers, including USC faculty and industry professionals, and conducted up to two years of research before their final presentation.
Numerous members of the PharmD Class of 2024, who joined the USC Mann community in fall 2020, investigated how the pandemic reshaped educational experiences. Teams also looked into mental health challenges that pharmacy students faced and the effect of available school resources.
Students also explored issues within the USC Mann community and the industry in general. Sahar Wardak, Anh Dang and Suji Moon investigated vitamin D deficiency among USC Mann students. Shanelle Salazar, Carissa Chen, Janet Du and Anna Wang looked into the accuracy of USC Mann students’ primary care provider referrals for health fair participants.
Nathan Vo looked into whether patients are aware that PrEP/PEP—antiviral medications that are highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV—are available at local pharmacies in Long Beach, Calif. Increased investment in advertising and education would greatly benefit the Long Beach high-risk HIV community, according to Vo.
Samvel Nazaretyan, who received the Dean’s Recognition Award, spent the past four semesters looking into how appropriate maintenance and proper adherence to an FLT3 inhibitor regimen will improve the overall survival of patients diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
Working with project adviser Amir Ali, clinical pharmacist specialist at Keck Medicine of USC and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Nazaretyan presented findings in professional conferences and is finalizing a manuscript for submission later this year.
“Having the opportunity to contribute meaningful data that can help shape future treatment decisions in such a rare and notoriously difficult-to-treat form of cancer has been incredibly rewarding,” Nazarentyan said. “It helped shape my understanding of how AML is currently treated as well as the patient’s journey. Seeing as I intend to work in an industry setting specifically involving hematology-oncology post-graduation, this experience was invaluable to me.”
“Students need to have access to the proper mentorship that can help them refine a genuine curiosity about an area of pharmacy into a research-based question,” added Ali, his project advisor. “Regardless of practice settings, a scholarly project serves as an excellent means of training students in acquiring practical experience of critically analyzing data and extrapolating the significance behind the results.”
The symposium, supported by the USC Mann Alumni Association, was held virtually during the pandemic years. This year’s in-person presentations provided a deeper sense of connection and celebration, according to Rory Kim, assistant professor of clinical pharmacy and director of the PharmD scholarly project.
“The current P3 students began their PharmD curriculum completely online, so it was especially meaningful to join them to celebrate their accomplishments,” Kim said, noting the symposium also marks another important milestone for third-year students—the last day before they start advanced pharmacy practice experiences (APPE).
Working with project adviser Nancy Pire-Smerkanich, assistant professor of regulatory and quality sciences, Nathaniel Chard researched drug trials for autism, a disorder that has increased 241% since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chard said his daughter, who has autism, served as inspiration for his research.
“I’m hoping that maybe—just maybe—it can be a tiny little piece of the foundation that eventually might lead to a change in how researchers conduct interventional drug trials for autistic patients, and then maybe someday, when changes have taken place, we may eventually see the creation of clinical treatment guidelines for autism,” Chard said. “I’m realistic enough to see that my project is but a tiny pebble that doesn’t provide much on its own. But when mixed with more pebbles and the right ingredients, it could eventually become concrete in which to build upon.”
Alumni Association Recognition Awards
Nathaniel Chard, Nancy Pire-Smerkanich (project adviser), “Autism Spectrum Disorder & Outcome Measures: Comparability of Interventional Drug Trial Results” abstract | poster
Mareena Biju, Melissa Martinez, Arghavan Zolfaghari, Ian Haworth (project adviser), Hovhannes Gukasyan (project adviser), “Pharmacokinetic Simulations of Cyclic Peptides with Inclusion of Conformational Variations” abstract | poster
For more information about the PharmD Scholarly Projects, contact Rory Kim at email@example.com.