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School of Pharmacy


Graduate Students

Graduate Students Research

Understanding the biological mechanisms behind illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and even cancer have become top research priorities for the School of Pharmacy’s five pharmaceutical sciences graduate students. The cohort is working diligently alongside faculty mentors on several research projects in the School’s state-of-the-art laboratories.

Raife Deniz Demirer

Diabetes, in its various types, currently affects at least 29.1 million Americans each year. Reduction of insulin-secreting pancreatic beta (β) cells is the culminating factor in the development of diabetes. Demirer’s research project, “The role of peroxynitrite in insulin secretion and storage in human islets,” has focused on clarifying specific molecular mechanisms by which pancreatic β-cells alter metabolic responses under nutrient overload. By studying how peroxynitrite affects insulin secretion and storage, Demirer hopes to better understand the role of this hormone in β-cell function and survival in normal physiology and pathophysiology of diabetes. Guim Kwon, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, is Demirer’s advisor.

Lanie Conner

Vector-borne infectious diseases that arise in animals are a serious health threat to humans and mammalian species. Although Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is the most common tick-borne illness reported in the Midwest, the occurrence of Rickettsia rickettsia, the causative agent behind the potentially dangerous bacterial infection, is rarely found in the ticks studied in this region. To better understand this particular agent in ticks, Conner will screen ticks collected from the region for spotted fever DNA, determine the presence or absence of various rickettsia types, and determine genetic similarities to strains in other parts of the country. She is working under the advisement of Cathy Santanello, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences.

Michael Cusack

Fusarochromanone (FC101) is a mycotoxin isolated from Fusarium equiseti, a fungus commonly found on decaying cereal in northern latitudes. This molecule has been found to inhibit cell growth and blood vessel formation in human cancer cells. In his project, Cusack hopes to design novel compounds using the analog-based drug design technique, synthesize a small focused library of fusarochromanone analogs, test the compounds using standard cell lines, and establish structure-activity relationships (SAR) for further optimization of the analogs as anticancer and anti-infective drugs. Cusack’s advisor is Marcelo Nieto, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences.

Melinda Schnietz and Stephen Kukielski

Several studies have shown that the natural peptide hormone somatostatin levels are reduced in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. Abnormal clumps of protein, called Aβ-plaques, can build up between nerve cells and may disrupt cell function, causing pathology.

Schnietz is working with Mike Crider, PhD, associate dean for research, and professor and chair of pharmaceutical sciences, who has previously developed several highly potent somatostatin subtype 4 (sst4) agonists, to optimize the current lead molecules as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Her project involves synthesizing new drug candidates to study their structure-activity relationships.

Kukielski is continuing SAR studies of sst4 agonist drug candidates with William Neumann, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences. He has synthesized a number of new compounds with the goal of increasing or maintaining drug potency and selectivity, while blocking metabolism. He is also developing new organic synthesis methods for the more efficient modular construction of functionalized drug candidates for the sst4 Alzheimer’s project. The secondary goal of this project is to invent new chemistries that can be applied generally to other drug discovery projects.

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