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Drug Discovery and Development Meet Student Jennifer Green

Drug Discovery and Development Student Jennifer Green


Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts
Undergraduate: Villanova University, BS in Biochemistry
Graduate: Drexel University College of Medicine, MS in Drug Discovery and Development


Can you tell me a little bit about yourself before you came to Drexel?

I graduated from Villanova University in May 2017 with my Bachelor of Science in biochemistry. At the end of my junior year, I started working as a lab tech at iCeutica, a small pharmaceutical company in King of Prussia. I did basic stuff like help them prepare for experiments and order supplies, but it really gave me insight to the pharmaceutical industry. I realized that I definitely wanted to be in the pharmaceutical industry, but maybe not focusing as much on the formulation development as they did there. While working on my degree, I realized the part of biochemistry that I really liked was more applicable to drug discovery.

What made you choose to apply to Drexel's Drug Discovery and Development (DDD) program?

I wasn't sure whether I wanted to do a master's degree or a PhD, so I started to research programs. I decided that I should do a master's first to make sure I really do like this and want to pursue it further. I was looking at pharmaceutical science programs and pharmacology programs, and I heard about the Drexel program through a woman I used to work with who was one of the first students to go through the Drug Discovery and Development program. Ultimately, I decided to come here because it took the pharmaceutical industry perspective and brought it together with basic research science and pharmacology.

What has your experience been like in the program so far?

It's been really good. You get to take courses in the science of pharmacology and physiology. I'm focused more in neuropharmacology, so I've been taking classes in that. I also really like how a lot of our Drug Discovery and Development classes focus on the industry side. I think that side of things can get lost in academia, so I really like that it is discussed here. They bring in a lot of people from the industry to talk to us, which is really helpful, especially in a master's program where we have two years to figure out what comes next. The speakers bring different perspectives and have advice to help you figure out whether a PhD program might be right for you, or, if you're going into a career next, they can advise whether you should do lab research for your thesis or do an internship. It's been very valuable to be able to talk to these people as they come in.

What has your experience with the faculty been like in the program?

The faculty have been awesome. Dr. McGonigle and Dr. Mathiasen are extremely helpful people. The whole department of Pharmacology and Physiology has been so helpful and welcoming. Every week, we have a journal club with the students in Pharmacology and Physiology where students either present a paper or their own research. I did a presentation a couple of weeks ago, and all of the faculty there were really helpful with their critiques and questions. Dr. McGonigle and Dr. Mathiasen were really helpful in helping me prepare for it. In our drug discovery class, we practice presenting and learn how to communicate our science. My mentor, who is my principle investigator (PI) in the lab I'm doing research in, was also extremely helpful in going through the article and coming up with questions.

What is the goal of the journal club?

The goal is to practice presenting. I've realized that if you can't really communicate your research to other people, it loses a lot of value. You need to be able to communicate your ideas and what you've learned. I chose to look for a journal article that was related to the research I'm doing on a specific transporter in the brain, which is what I presented. The PhD students present an update on the research they're doing. Essentially, the goal is to become better at being able to communicate science and answering questions.

What has your experience with your classmates been like?

I like that it is a small class. In our Drug Discovery and Development classes, we have group presentations. Since we get to know everyone really well, it helps with those types of assignments because we know each other's strengths. We also get to have fun together. The department organizes fun things for us to do. At the beginning of the semester, they had a happy hour at a local bar, so it was nice to meet everyone and get to know their faces. It's also helpful because sometimes you'll have a question about what's going on in one of your classes and you can turn to your classmates for help.

The small size of the program definitely helps people bond. I've been in Philly, so I have other friends here, but a lot of the other students in the program are new to the city. I feel like our program being so close has helped a number of them to acclimate, and another student who has lived in Philly for a while and I have been able to help them as well. There's ten of us in the program, so it's like you come in and you automatically have nine friends in Philly.

Can you tell me about the research you are doing?

I'm in Dr. Andréia Mortensen's lab in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology. We're working with a transporter in the brain and the glutamate system called EAAT2 - excitatory amino acid transporter 2. When you have too much extracellular glutamate, it sends too much excitatory signaling, which downstream can cause cell death. EAAT2 removes the extracellular glutamate to prevent this from happening in normal conditions. Dysfunction of EAAT2 is implicated in a lot of different diseases; right now, the lab is looking at stroke models, and we also have a student who's working in traumatic brain injury models with another lab over at the Queen Lane campus. It's also implicated in pain, epilepsy and a lot of other neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.

The work we're doing is based off of work Dr. Mortensen did during her PhD that looked at spider venom. They took that toxin and developed it into different compounds, and now we are working on the third generation of compounds. We test to see if they modulate this transporter to upregulate it so that it is more effective at removing extracellular glutamate under excitotoxic conditions in the various models we use.

I personally love doing this research because it really is drug discovery. I think basic research is really important, but this type of research is why I came here. I know I want to do my PhD, but eventually I want to go into the pharmaceutical industry. I really like how Dr. Mortensen's work is very translatable. She's working directly with different collaborators to find an effective and druggable compound.

What skills have you developed in the program so far?

I think I've learned a lot more about the business and marketing sides of drug discovery and development. In the first semester of our drug discovery and development course, you work in a group and have to present a go or no-go decision on whether your theoretical company should move forward and bring your preclinical compound into clinical development. I'm still developing the critical thinking skills of what action makes a good compound, but then we also look at the marketability of it and the competition for it to see what fits the profile of this best. It's a lot more than just doing the basic science of determining what the actual profile is.

This semester we're developing a clinical development plan for a compound and deciding on what the key decision points should be, how we market this, what kind of safety issues we should be looking for and so on. I think there is a lot of stuff that you don't realize about the industry. Having to make these decisions, even on hypothetical projects, has shown me so much.

I've also learned a lot more actual skills in the lab, as well as project management skills.

What advice do you have for future Drug Discovery and Development students?

I think it is important to keep an open mind about what you might want to do. Even if you think you know whether you want to go work in the pharmaceutical industry or do a PhD, this program shows that this industry is changing. You might work in one indication and then have to move to another. Also, to succeed in this program, take advantage of all the opportunities that they give you. We have professors from other colleges and industry professionals come in as guest speakers every week. Ask them questions. They can offer different perspectives from what you are learning in your classes.