Two School of Pharmacy Students, Tyler Vaglivelo and Lyla White, Receive Prestigious Gateway to Research Awards

Tyler Vaglivelo (fourth year Pharm.D. student) and Lyla White (third year Pharm.D. student) have been awarded the Gateway to Research Award for their promising work in pharmaceutical sciences.

The American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) selects Pharm.D. student recipients for the Gateway to Research Award and scholarship based on their outstanding academic performance and strong interest in pharmaceutical science research. The primary goal of the Gateway to Research Scholarship program is to help students gain an understanding of the importance of research by enabling them to apply that knowledge to improve their clinical skills. Candidates for this award must be nominated by a faculty member, and then submit a comprehensive research and mentoring plan along with letters of recommendation.

Vaglivelo, co-mentored by Gregory C. Sartor, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Nathaniel Rickles, Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs, was selected for this award based on his proposed project, titled Characterizing Toxicity and Treatments for the Fentanyl and Xylazine Crisis. Vaglivelo will study the currently available alpha-2 agonist therapeutics, a class of drugs often used for opioid withdrawal and opioid use disorder, to better characterize emerging trends within the opioid crisis, specifically focusing on the use of fentanyl and xylazine with mice as a model. His experiments, Vaglivelo says, will enhance our understanding of the adulterant xylazine and hopefully help to alleviate the emotional and economic detriment associated with opioid use disorder.

Tyler Vaglivelo

“Fentanyl mixed with xylazine, also known as Tranq, is an emerging issue in the ongoing opioid crisis,” says Sartor. “With his clinical and basic science research experience, Tyler is well positioned to identify improved treatments for fentanyl/xylazine dependence.”

Moving forward, Vaglivelo hopes that his project can be used as a basis for follow up experiments to determine new therapeutic avenues for opioid use disorder. This area of research, he says, is an area with continued unmet needs despite there being FDA approved options for patients. As Vaglivelo moves forward in his pharmacy career, he hopes to take the knowledge he has developed in the Sartor lab to pursue an oncology residency to address the unique psychiatric challenges associated with cancer treatment.

Outside of the Sartor lab, Vaglivelo enhances his pharmacy experience through involvement in many other related activities and organizations. Vaglivelo is the historian of the Rho Chi National Pharmacy Honor Society, a co-chair for the School of Pharmacy Journal Club, and an executive board member for the Students for Accurate Vaccine Information organization. He also serves as an ambassador for the School of Pharmacy and a teaching assistant for non-sterile compounding lab courses. Additionally, Vaglivelo works as a pharmacy intern for Reliant Compounded Solutions based in Monroe, Connecticut. When he is not finding ways to be involved within the School of Pharmacy, Vaglivelo is serving as president of the UConn Coffee Club, which he founded in March of 2020.

Vaglivelo’s pharmaceutical sciences research has also been recognized, in addition to the AFPE Gateway to Research award, through the School of Pharmacy Pharm.D. Honors Program Research Scholarship and the Dr. Karl A. Nieforth Pharmacy Student Research Award.

“I am honored to have been selected for the AFPE Gateway to Research Award,” says Vaglivelo. “I look forward to using this opportunity to continue my research into novel treatment options for opioid use disorder.”

White, mentored by Robin Bogner, Professor of Pharmaceutics, was selected for this award based on her project, titled Development of a Stable Aspirin Suspension. Aspirin, a centuries-old drug that is used for pain, inflammation, and cardioprotection, comes in a variety of different tablet formulations. However, White observed that there is no comfortable aspirin drug form for those who cannot swallow tablets. White’s project, therefore, aims to design a stable aspirin oral suspension so that patients with trouble swallowing have a safe, effective, and comfortable way to take the medication.

Lyla White

“Lyla’s previous research experience and academic record made her a very strong candidate for this award,” says Bogner. “Additionally, her proposed research is practical and has the potential to help many patients.”

In addition to her research investigating the development of an aspirin oral suspension, White has also investigated the stability of aspirin tablets in various storage conditions. For this work, White has presented at UConn Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Exhibitions, the UConn School of Pharmacy Research Symposium, and the Connecticut Pharmacists Association (CPA) Midwinter Conference. This work has also awarded White with the Office of Undergraduate Research Supply Award as well as the Office of Undergraduate Research SURF Grant. White has additionally been named a UConn University Scholar, which is the highest academic honor awarded to undergraduate students.

Outside of her research, White is highly involved within the School of Pharmacy. White is an executive board member for the UConn chapter of the American Pharmacist’s Association (APhA) and Academy of Managed Care Pharmacists (AMCP), as well as an active member of the Industry Pharmacists Organization (IPhO) and Student College of Clinical Pharmacy (SCCP). On top of this involvement, White volunteers her time in the School of Pharmacy as a pharmacy math peer mentor, a Wellness Committee member, an Immunization Committee Co-Chair, a pharmacy peer advisor and ambassador, a representative of the Curriculum Committee, a No Friend Left Naloxone member, a member of the Topic Discussion Club, and a participant in the Journal Club. However, White’s involvement does not stop within the School of Pharmacy; she is a volunteer for the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective, an adaptive climbing volunteer for the Prime Climb, and president of the UConn Rock Climbing Team.

As she progresses through her pharmacy career, White anticipates using her research skills and findings to advocate for progress in the pharmacy field that will help patients. Regardless of the direction White pursues after graduating from the School of Pharmacy, she will continue to keep asking if there’s a better way to provide above and beyond patient care.

“I think pharmaceutical science and pharmacy practice are best when informed and complemented by each other,” White says. “I really appreciate that AFPE offers the Gateway to Research award to support pharmacy students like myself doing pharmaceutical science research.”

Both Vaglivelo and White will be returning in the fall to continue pursuing their Pharm.D. at the UConn School of Pharmacy.