Lauren Snider, a psychology major and chemistry minor, is going into her senior year at Boise State University. As part of the Ralph Jones fellowship, Snider has been working with Professor Don Warner researching small molecule inhibitors.
Read on to learn more about Snider, her research and her experience in the Ralph Jones Fellowship!
What kind of project are you working on with Dr. Warner?
I currently work under Dr. Don Warner in his organic and medicinal chemistry research lab. My work is focused on creating small molecules that are designed to inhibit an inflammatory cytokine (a small protein important in cell signaling) that promotes cancer metastasis (most notably, breast cancer). This particular cytokine activates the JAK/STAT signaling pathway, which initiates several downstream processes such as tumor angiogenesis (growth of blood vessels connected to a cancerous tumor), the promotion of inflammation, and upregulation of various pro-metastatic genes (increase in number of receptors on cell genes that promote metastasis).
While I did learn some molecular modeling at the beginning of the summer to become familiar with the docking site of the cytokine that we’re targeting, my primary focus has been on the synthesis side of our project. I have synthesized nearly ten new drug molecules that have been or are currently being tested for their efficacy at inhibiting the cytokine.
What is the main role you have been given as a fellow in Dr. Warner’s lab?
My primary role in the lab has been in synthesizing new SMIs (small molecule inhibitors, aka our drug molecules), particularly new variants of SMI-26, although I have taken on some educational roles as well.
I have also assisted two educational programs: STEM on the Move, which involved introducing two groups of middle school students from the Nampa and Caldwell areas to several research fields, and Dr. Warner’s Anti-Cancer Chemistry Camp, which is an intensive, week-long immersion program for high school students to learn about the drug discovery process.
I have also presented at two conferences: Idaho Conference on Undergraduate Research (ICUR) and the state-wide IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) conference in Moscow where I was awarded first place (student’s choice) for my presentation of our work.
What interests you most about this research project?
I have really grown to enjoy organic chemistry, so being able to apply it directly to medicine through drug discovery has been an awesome experience. I enjoy working with all of my coworkers, and, while we are all on different projects, they have all been great role models and have offered very valuable knowledge along the way.
I also have a family history of cancer, which made this project a much more personal one. My grandmother recently passed away when her cancer came back and, despite many misdiagnoses from half a dozen physicians, metastasized to her brain. What was once a treatable cancer became fatal through metastasis, so it means a lot to me to contribute to creating a drug that might be able to prevent this for others in the future.
When did you first know you wanted to study health and medicine?
I actually began my undergraduate studies rather unsure about my future career path. I love learning about the brain and human behavior and found myself undecided between applying that passion to law and criminal justice or medicine, so I pursued opportunities in both fields.
Once I had exposure to each discipline I realized how much I really loved them both, but it was my experience working as an Electrocardiogram technician at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center during the COVID-19 pandemic that made the decision clear. Once I began interacting with patients and observing the impact our providers had on their physical and emotional wellbeing, even through some of the most incredibly difficult circumstances, I realized that that was how I wanted to spend my time.
What are some of the skills you learned throughout this research experience that you’re excited to take into a future career?
Working in research is a perpetual lesson in adaptability. Sometimes your reactions don’t go as you planned, and you have to find new ways to solve problems you didn’t expect to run into. This is a particularly valuable skill to learn while pursuing medicine, as healthcare can also take frequent and unexpected turns. I learned how to adjust my mindset and my course of action when something changed or went awry, and I have no doubt that this will be crucial in my future medical career.
What advice would you give to other students thinking about applying to the Ralph Jones Fellowship?
Absolutely apply! This fellowship was an awesome opportunity for me to explore medicinal chemistry and the reality of drug discovery. Each week has given unique insight to what goes on behind the scenes to create a new drug, and it has been a super fun experience for me to apply my love for organic chemistry to my passion for medicine.
Also, don’t be afraid to say yes to new and unfamiliar opportunities. Many of the coolest and most fulfilling parts of my undergraduate years, including applying for this pre-medical research fellowship, I nearly walked away from because I was afraid to try something I’d never done before.
In hindsight, these experiences have shaped my journey to medical school the most, and I am grateful that I continued to push myself when I realized that fear was my only hesitation.
Has working on this research project changed your view of the medical field in any way?
My work on this project helped me to understand the reality of all the effort that goes into creating new pharmacological treatments. I definitely took my access to medication for granted, and never considered quite how long and arduous the process was to create a new drug that is safe and effective.
Working in the drug discovery and synthesis side of medicine has certainly given me a newfound appreciation for the research teams that work so diligently to create new treatments. This fellowship confirmed my desire to pursue medicinal chemistry research alongside my clinical career, as well as work in an educational capacity if possible.
What was your favorite takeaway from this fellowship?
That I am undoubtedly on the right career path and there will be countless new and exciting opportunities along the way that surpass anything that I could have possibly imagined.