Tyler Ackley Awarded Competitive AFPE Gateway to Research Scholarship

Tyler Ackley of UConn Pharmacy
Tyler Ackley, a student in the UConn School of Pharmacy, works in a lab at UConn Health. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health photo)

Tyler Ackley, a 4th year Pharmacy student (P4), was recently awarded a highly competitive American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) Gateway to Research Scholarship.  This program helps a student with plans for a research career to be actively involved in faculty-led investigations while completing the Pharm.D. degree.  Ackley earned both a B.S. in Pharmacy Studies, magna cum laude, and a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology, summa cum laude, in the spring of 2017.

Tyler AckleyWhile at UConn, Ackley has had the opportunity to work with three laboratory groups studying topics such as epigenetics, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  The RA project is with Dr. Caroline Dealy, UConn Center for Regenerative Medicine.

With Dealy, Ackley is also completing his thesis research work as a University Scholar. He is focusing on the changes in cellular signaling that occur during RA disease progression. RA is a chronic, inflammatory disease characterized by immune cell induction and subsequent degradation of joint tissues. This autoimmune attack of the joint space leads to irreparable damage, lifelong pain, and diminished mobility. Like many other autoimmune diseases, RA is thought to be due to the multifactorial effects of underlying genetics, environmental triggers, and various regulatory genes.

Recent research has implicated the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) in RA disease. Activation of EGFR induces cellular behaviors like proliferation, survival, and migration. Given these characteristics, EGFR is traditionally associated with cancer biology and is upregulated in many malignancies such as breast and non-small cell lung cancer. A soluble isoform of EGFR (sEGFR), has been found to modulate and reduce EGFR signaling. Ackley is working to characterize the biological role of sEGFR in RA, as well as determine its use as a potential biomarker and therapeutic target.

Following Ackley’s Pharm.D. graduation in spring 2019, he plans on pursuing a residency. Using his undergraduate and Pharm.D. laboratory experience as a backbone, he hopes to further his understanding of biology as well as the underlying mechanisms of disease. Ultimately, he hopes to return to a pharmacy school and establish a role in academia.

“The AFPE Gateway to Research scholarship provides the means to further develop this project, allowing me to take on more intricate and thorough experiments,” said Ackley.  “The information gained therein will provide a more wholistic understanding of EGFR signaling in RA. Further, we can begin to explore clinical avenues for the project and begin to look at patient data directly.”

Image above excerpted from AFPE’s annual award brochure.