The USC School of Pharmacy hosted four undergraduate students from Mexico this summer as part of the US-Mexico Commission for Education and Cultural Exchange (COMEXUS), which administers the Fulbright-Garcia Robles Scholarship Program and aims to increase and enhance academic exchange between the two countries.
As a culmination to their summer program at the School of Pharmacy, the COMEXUS students did presentations on their research for a global audience that included USC students and faculty, and visiting students from Japanese and Korean universities. The global reach extended even further as one of the Mexican presenters worked under the mentorship of a visiting scholar from China throughout the summer.
Mariana Ponce de León Rodríguez worked with visiting scholar Zhigang Liu in the laboratory of Professor Enrique Cadenas, the Charles own/Pharmacy Alumni Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences. Rodríguez, an undergraduate at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, studied the effects of lipoic acid on various types of diets, specifically looking at its effect on synapse elasticity in the brain which impacts learning and memory.
Rodriguez’s summer project was part of ongoing work undertaken in the Cadenas lab that is exploring how obesity effects brain function. “I was able to learn a great deal in a short period time on the effect of obesity and metabolic syndrome on brain function,” said Rodriguez. She will also present her research to students and faculty upon her return to Guadalajara.
Karen Zamora Hernández worked in the laboratory of Associate Professor Paul Beringer whose research focuses on therapeutic approaches to cystic fibrosis. The team explored the potential of a RTD-1 as a drug to combat the effects produced by the lung-damaging disease.
“I have learned a great deal about cystic fibrosis and other pulmonary diseases by working on this project and have also developed my scientific skills,” said Hernández who is a student at the Universidad La Sallein Mexico City. A second student from the Universidad La Sallein who participated in the program, Ana Aurora Dorantes Reyes, did her research project under the mentorship of Associate Professor Julio Camarero.
While these three students all conducted laboratory bench work during their summer projects, Azucena González Gómez did a computational chemistry project under the mentorship of Associate Professor Ian Haworth. González Gómez’s project explored RNA aptamers, which are molecules that bind to target molecules, and have broad applications for future diagnostic and therapeutic compounds.
“I will continue to work on this project with Dr. Haworth through distance collaboration when I return to school in Mexico,” said Gómez. “I will pursue it as my undergraduate thesis.”
Gómez, a student at the Instituto Technológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, ultimately hopes to become a neuroscientist. “My brother has multiple sclerosis and someday I hope to find a cure or treatment for it.”
According to Claudia Arruñada, a coordinator at COMEXUS who visited the students while at USC, the summer exchange aims to help these students develop their potential as possible future Fulbright Fellows who pursue graduate programs at US universities. “We are part of the binational effort that aims to bring 100,000 Mexican students to the US over the next four years,” she said.
“Our faculty were very impressed with the visiting students and their work,” said Associate Dean of Global Initiatives Michael Wincor. “We look forward to continuing this relationship in the future.”
The School of Pharmacy was one of several USC units hosting COMEXUS students this summer.