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Research opportunities have prepared Sanchez for grad school

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Laura Sanchez has known she’s wanted to be a researcher since she was a high school student in Bensenville, Ill.

Through several experiences at Monmouth College, Sanchez is well on her way to being accepted into medical school and, ultimately, embarking on a career in medical research.

“It’s been a lot more than I expected,” said Sanchez ’19, a biochemistry major. “I had no idea about what an REU was my freshman year.”

An REU is Research Experiences for Undergraduates, a program that supports student research in an area funded by the National Science Foundation.

Sanchez completed an REU in each of the past two summers. Her most recent experience took her to the University of Michigan’s School of Pharmacy, where she worked with cytochrome P450 enzymes, which are proteins that metabolize toxins and/or drugs in the body.

“She was given a challenging problem – expressing a variant of a cytochrome P450 enzyme from mammalian cells in a bacterial system – and was successful in isolating protein,” said Monmouth chemistry professor Laura Moore, Sanchez’s academic adviser.

Bringing it back to campus

Moore said that she and fellow chemistry professor Brad Sturgeon hope that Sanchez might be able to isolate some of the cytochrome P450 enzyme at Monmouth.

“How these molecules are metabolized is something that Brad has long been interested in,” said Moore. “He’s just never had the opportunity to work with isolated cytochrome P450.”

Sanchez said she was attracted to the project at the University of Michigan “because it’s in a field of study similar to what I want to do in grad school.”

“I want to go into medicinal chemistry research, working on trying to develop new drugs,” said Sanchez. “I’m really interested in trying to find alternatives to some of the drugs that are out there, such as opioids. I want to try to develop drugs that are non-addictive.”

Sanchez participated in a 2017 summer research program at Southern Illinois University, where she worked on developing inexpensive, printed electrodes that can be used for immunoassays.

Research opportunities at Monmouth

Sanchez has also had abundant opportunities at Monmouth, working on research before she’d even taken her first Monmouth class.

“Since high school, I knew I wanted to do research, so the SOFIA (Summer Opportunity for Intellectual Activity) program attracted me to Monmouth,” she said.

Sanchez is also part of Moore’s research team that is examining the aggregation properties of protein found in corn.

“She is testing the effect of different reducing agents on the aggregation of the protein in hopes that one can be found that will be suitable for use in the food industry,” said Moore. “Laura has learned to do gel electrophoresis and how to think about designing experiments. She has shown that she can independently learn how to analyze data.”

Moore said the “hard-working” senior is a quiet leader and trusted student.

“What I think Laura excels at is her independence in her laboratory work and her determination in solving problems that she encounters,” she said. “While she may be quieter than the other students, I notice her making important contributions as the group works through the lab. Because of her excellence in the lab, she was chosen to be a teaching assistant in the organic chemistry lab last year. Her lab skills, excellent communication and work habits suggest to me that she will be successful in any research environment.”

Sanchez has yet to decide where to apply to graduate school, but she’s already reached a major milestone. In May, she’ll become the first member of her family to graduate from college.

“Not a lot of people in my family have gone to college,” said Sanchez, who also received an American Chemical Society scholarship this year. “I’ve put pressure on myself, because I’ve wanted to set a good example. My parents have also told me about the challenges they had going to school, so it makes me want to persevere that much more, knowing that they had it tougher than me.”