The *NSPIRE fellowship is a competitive scholarship program for senior graduate students at Scripps Research. *NSPIRE Fellows will receive a educational allowance stipend and will have the opportunity to present a seminar at the *NSPIRE Symposium. The seminar will not only feature Fellows’ doctoral research, but also highlight their unique educational journey in a way that is compelling to a diverse audience of students, faculty, and staff from CSU San Marcos, Palomar Community College, Mira Costa Community College, and Scripps Research.
2022 *NSPIRE Fellows
I have always been passionate about helping those around me and research has helped me converge these passions with my love for science to develop exciting therapeutics to address important diseases and disorders within our society. My first experience with research was during my undergraduate education at Yonsei University in South Korea with Professor YoungSoo Kim, where I used solid-phase peptide synthesis and assay development to produce a new screening system to find small-molecules for diagnosing or treating Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. It was in this laboratory that I became enamored with chemical biology, which is the use of chemical tools to study or manipulate biological systems. My interest in applying chemical biology to further address neurological diseases and disorders led me to apply to graduate programs. As a Ph.D. candidate at Scripps Research in Professor Kim Janda’s laboratory, my projects focus on vaccine development against opioids, psychostimulants, and polysubstance drug abuse. I currently work at the interface of medicinal chemistry, molecular biology, and immunology by synthesizing drug-like haptens that can elicit effective antibodies against drugs of abuse. We have developed effective vaccines against new psychoactive substance opioids and concomitant fentanyl-heroin abuse. During my journey to and throughout graduate school, I have grown as a researcher and as an individual all thanks to my amazing advisors and mentors, so I am grateful to be an *NSPIRE fellow to share what I have learned and to help the next generation of scientists.
My journey in STEM began back in Mexico when my competing in the national math olympiad, led to a whole series of events that would change my life, shortly before having to leave my home country and moving to the US. During college I became involved with multiple Latinx organizations, including the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the UNIDOS Penn mentorship program, and the non-profit HISPA organization, with which I nurtured my passion for STEM outreach and scientific communication. I am grateful for programs like *NSPIRE’s as they give us an opportunity to share the whole story behind our success; an opportunity to talk about the challenges we overcame along the way, like adjusting to a new country’s culture, dealing with continuous financial instability, academic underperformance, and other issues, all while balancing one’s goals with a philosophy of self-made purpose. My story led to me to my current position as a doctoral candidate at Scripps Research, where I seek to address one of the most critical needs in the field of Alzheimer’s disease (AD); its lack of adequate pre-clinical models. AD is the most common form of dementia, affecting at least 47 million people worldwide and with cases growing at an alarming rate. Despite great efforts, the cellular and molecular mechanisms of the disease are still largely unknown, and no disease-modifying drug has succeeded so far. This has been partly attributed to the lack of adequate disease models, as hundreds of potential drugs shown to be effective in AD animal models that only partially recapitulate the disease have ultimately failed at the clinic. Thus, to better understand and study the potential treatment of AD, I am working to develop a novel in vitro human AD model based on induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cerebral organoids, or so called, human “brains-in-a-dish”. My research has characterized their potential as system recapitulating known and novel AD mechanisms, and as a powerful platform in which to test promising pharmacologic agents for therapeutic and prophylactic effects.