UConn Student Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences – Summer 2021

"Summer 2021’s pharmaceutical focused research projects highlight the diverse opportunities for undergrad research for students in the School of Pharmacy and across UConn."

a girl working in a lab

(Contributed Photo)

UConn student interest in pharmaceutical research is growing strong and the summer months offer time for specialization and uninterrupted focus.  “The department of pharmaceutical sciences has a rich history of mentoring and training undergraduates in research. The multi-disciplinarily nature of our department provides a variety of options to students interested in research in areas such as drug discovery, mode of action, drug formulation and safety.  Exposure to research in pharmaceutical sciences not only creates awareness among undergraduate students about the value of scientific inquiry, but also helps them explore career fields” says José Manautou, Department Head.

“Summer 2021’s pharmaceutical-focused student research projects highlight the diverse opportunities for undergraduate students in the School of Pharmacy and across UConn,” says Brian Aneskievich, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and undergraduate research coordinator.  “Students work closely with faculty members in their labs benefiting from the experience, counsel and professional workplace.”

Watch below as each of this year’s student researchers from both UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and School Pharmacy present their work in one-minute clips.

Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Awardees 

Joshua Yu (Molecular and Cell Biology, CLAS, ’23)

Project Title: Overcoming Acute Myeloid Leukemia Resistance through Nanoparticle-Mediated Inhibition

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Xiuling Lu, Pharmaceutical Sciences

“Joshua has a strong interest in integrating his background in molecular cell biology with our focused area of drug delivery. He is exploring to uncover the mechanism of effective leukemic stem cell inhibition using our developed nanoparticles carrying an anti-cancer drug, as an extension of his Holster Scholar project last summer. We look forward to the great outcome through Joshua’s dedication, careful thinking and persistent effort into this work.” – Dr. Lu


Mariam Zedan (Pharmacy Studies, PHR, ’22)

Project Title: Examining Delftia tsuruhatensis Symbiont Activity in Association with Fungus-Gardening Ants Trachymyrmex septentrionalis Fungus Gardens

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Marcy Balunas, Pharmaceutical Sciences

“Throughout her time in our lab, Mariam has shown her passion, skills, and perseverance in science, working towards finding new metabolites from host-microbe symbioses that might combat antibiotic resistance. We’re looking forward to seeing the results of her intensive SURF summer research.” – Dr. Balunas

Read the full UConn Today story on Marium Zedan’s work.


The Dr. Karl A. Nieforth Pharmacy Student Research Award

Anna Liu (Pharm.D., ’23)

Project Title: Biotransformation of Garcinia mangostana metabolites by the gut bacterium Clostridium sporogenes

“I’m honored to be supported by the Neiforth Award this summer to conduct research regarding Clostridium sporogoenes biotransformation on mangosteen extract and alpha-mangostin. Mangosteen has been used since ancient times for its health benefits such as antibacterial, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, and more. The metabolism/interaction of plant compounds and microorganisms in the gut may play a role in its bioactivity resulting in health benefits. C. sporogenes is the microorganism used because it belongs to the phylum Firmicutes which is one of the most abundant phyla of microorganisms in the gut flora and has been shown in previous research to generate antioxidant and neuroprotective indole acetic acid from dietary tryptophan.” Anna Liu

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Marcy Balunas, Pharmaceutical Sciences

“Anna has pioneered some new areas of study in the lab, focusing on the metabolism of botanical supplements by gut microbes. Her research has delved into new methods that have shown her abilities, passion, and independence in research. We’re looking forward to seeing the results of her intensive summer research with the Nieforth Award!” – Dr. Balunas

UConn Holster Scholars

Ananya Aggarwal​ (STEM Scholar, Pre-Dental, CLAS, ’24)

Project Title: Synthesizing a Cisplatin Loaded Mesoporous Silica Nanoparticle for the Intraperitoneal Treatment of Ovarian Cancer

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Xiuling Lu, Pharmaceutical Sciences

“As a highly motivated and dedicated young researcher, Ananya exhibited her maturity since she started her freshman year. This relatively independent research is built upon our lab’s platform technology using tumor-specific nanoparticles to target peritoneal metastasis. Ananya proposed to optimize the preparation of drug loaded mesoporous silica nanoparticles for improving the delivery of the anti-cancer drug cisplatin. She has a thoughtful study plan and has been working diligently in the lab. I believe she will have a fruitful summer.” – Dr. Lu

Lyla White (STEM Scholar, Pharmacy Studies, ’24)

Project Title: Can 3D Printers Create Viable Personalized Therapy in the Treatment of Diabetes?

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Bodhi Chaudhuri, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Anson Ma, CBE/IMS

“Lyla is exceptionally bright and very proactive. When she approached me as a potential mentor, she was prepared, knew the area of research I was involved in, and had a few possible ideas for where to go next. There are several unknowns in her project and she will have to troubleshoot the novel solutions that will extend the scientific underpinning of this 3D printing approach. I like the ambitiousness of the project and that it has real clinical implications for patients with diabetes while also being a model that can be applied to other active ingredients that could be incorporated into 3D printed tablets for other diseases.” – Dr. Chaudhuri



McNair Scholar

Bethlehem (Betty) Abebe (Structural Biology and Biophysics, CLAS, ’22)

Project title: Analysis of Host-Microbe Symbionts Through the Study of Comparative Metabolomics and Genomics of Closely Related Leisingera Strains to Predict Fungal Growth Inhibition Against Candida albicans

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Marcy Balunas, Pharmaceutical Sciences

“Betty has taken on a challenging project, researched the literature, and designed methods to compare the genomes, metabolomes, and biological activity of closely related strains. Her work has significant potential to explain the importance of small genomic differences on biological function. We’re looking forward to seeing the results of Betty’s intensive McNair research.” – Dr. Balunas