UConn’s Office of Undergraduate Research each year provides Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) awards to support full-time undergraduate students in summer research or creative projects – an initiative that continues this year, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
SURF awards are available to students in all majors at all UConn campuses. A faculty committee representing various schools and colleges reviews the students’ project proposals, and SURF award recipients are chosen through a competitive process. Each SURF award winner is supervised by a UConn faculty member.
This summer, UConn Today will once again take a look at various 2021 SURF scholars and their work.
Name: Isabella Sanchez
Year: Rising Senior
Summer research project: Sanchez is doing research investigating the anti-arthritic effects of cannabidiol with faculty mentor Steven Kinsey, a professor in the School of Nursing.
Can you tell us about the research you are doing this summer?
My project is looking at rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disorder that affects the synovial joints and causes inflammation and pain. It usually affects the hands, wrists, knees and feet. My project is looking at this disorder in mice and to do that we mimic rheumatoid arthritis by doing collagen induced arthritis. The mice are infused with collagen, and this causes them to have the same effects that people have.
We are looking at this in the mice model to see if cannabidiol, or CBD, which is derived from the cannabis plant and is non-psychoactive, is effective. CBD is marketed towards rheumatoid arthritis and anti-inflammatory and pain reducing effects, but there is not that much scientific backing towards that. We are looking at CBD versus dexamethasone, which is a clinically proven drug to reduce inflammation, but it has adverse side effects.
How did you get interested in this research area?
I’ve always been interested in being a nursing major and helping people. Looking at chronic pain has always been interesting to me. When I was looking for a research mentor I was thrilled to find Dr. Kinsey, who was working with cannabidiol research. I liked the opioid part of the lab where we are looking at opioid withdrawal and pain management. My boyfriend’s mother, who I am close to, has rheumatoid arthritis, and I have seen the struggle she goes through, so it’s nice to look at some possible alternative treatments. It’s an excruciating painful disorder to deal with daily and has a very taxing mental and physical toll on people.
How do you like to research as compared to traditional classroom work?
I really enjoy research because it really pushes you to get creative and curious, and really think deeper on certain topics. I remember learning about RA in the fall of 2020 in one of my clinical science courses, but now I am actually involved in doing research, looking up different articles, and looking more in depth at treatments and questioning what can be changed. As someone that is going into health care, it has become apparent to me how important being part of research is and furthering best practices we can get for patients to find new ways to improve treatments. I really like being involved in that aspect and pushing deeper than what we learn in class.
How has COVID-19 affected your research?
I was new to my mentor’s lab last fall, but was not able to in there that much physically. Last spring, I got in a little more, but this summer is a great opportunity to get into the lab more with the restrictions lifted a little bit. Being hands-on this summer is a great way to make up for lost time due to COVID.
What are you future plans?
I would eventually like to pursue a doctorate in nursing. When I graduate next year, I will work doing bedside nursing and then go back to school to pursue pain management research for my Ph.D. I would love to become a distinguished teacher and professor someday.