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High School Students Gain Research Experience in Pharmaceutical Sciences Lab

By Jenna Pizzi

Published on August 6, 2018

Students in the Pharmaceutical Sciences LaboratoryAlthough he hasn’t taken a college level course, Joseph San Filippo PharmSci’22 has already begun working in a USciences laboratory.

San Filippo and Abigail Idiculla, who will be a junior in the fall at Radnor High School in Radnor, PA, said learning about the trials and tribulations of working in a University laboratory this summer with a stint in pharmaceutical sciences lab under the tutelage of Anil D’Mello, PhD, was an invaluable experience.

“I wanted to see what research was like in college and I thought it would be a good opportunity to help me get ready for the school year ahead,” said San Filippo, who will be studying pharmaceutical science at USciences in the fall. “It is nothing like a high school lab. It requires more critical thinking because you are on your own with a problem and have to devise a way to get to the solution.”

Joseph working in the lab.

Idiculla, who is considering a pre-med track in college, had also expressed an interest in getting a taste of what college research is like.

“High school has helped me learn the ‘whats’ of science and this very valuable experience at a professional lab helps me to learn about ‘why?’ While we have been here Dr. D’Mello has been asking us a bunch of ‘why’ questions,” she said. “It lets me think about why I am doing this, what is so significant about these tasks and the big picture of what we are doing.” 

San Filippo  and Idiculla conducted an initial probe experiment which will help pave the way for future research in Dr. D’Mello’s lab searching for a solution for individuals suffering from Phenylketonuria, also called PKU. PKU is a rare, inherited disorder that causes an amino acid, phenylalanine, to build up in the body which can lead to serious health problems including neurological issues. Dr. D’Mello hopes to find a way to encapsulate an enzyme to metabolize and remove dietary phenylalanine in the gastrointestinal tract so that it does not get absorbed and build up in the body causing adverse effects.

The students spent time in the lab testing different methods by which the lab will measure the porosity of the shell encapsulating the enzyme in their future research.

“Each day on my commute home, I thought that even though what I’m doing is such a small part of this research, it could be something that will help Dr. D’Mello hopefully find a way to help patients with PKU,” said San Filippo. “You want to make an impact on people's’ lives and this is one way to do it.”

Joseph in the lab.Dr. D’Mello said he likes to have high school students involved in the lab because it reinvigorates enthusiasm, teaches him about how to better teach the next class of students, and helps graduate students learn to mentor. But most of all, D’Mello said it is an act of service to inspire a future generation of scientists.

“It is a service to the community and to the profession to reinforce how important science is and how challenging the life of a scientist can be,” he said. “To be a good scientist, you must be perseverant and be able to maintain enthusiasm despite repeated failures.”

Idiculla said she valued her experience in the lab and learned more from this experience than she could have throughout her high school career. San Filippo said he hopes to continue working in Dr. D’Mello’s lab while completing his degree at USciences, perhaps helping mentor future high school students in their summer research experiences.

Categories: News, Students, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Research, Student Life