Touro College of Pharmacy Announces Winners of “Capstone Project”

Date: April 04, 2012
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Barbara Franklin
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May Graduates Present Results of Year-Long Research Investigating Cancer Cures, Sickle Cell Disease and Medication Safety.

New York, N.Y. – Sixty-three graduating students of the first class of the Touro College of Pharmacy presented the results of their year-long research projects at an event at the college in Harlem last week, culminating in presentations from the three top winners whose work took them into such areas as cures for cancer and sickle cell disease, and medication safety.

Known as the “Capstone Project” because the work is the culmination of their four-year education at the new pharmacy school in Harlem, the students identified research questions and designed experiments to find answers to them, across a range of fields - including basic science, clinical science, public health and educational research.

The top winners were Chukwuma Pius-Nwagwu, from Rahway, N.J., who designed a study to test the efficacy of the drug riociguat as an alternative to hydroxyurea in treatment of sickle cell disease; Ramya Devineni, who wrote a proposal to study how paclitaxel, a drug used in chemotherapy to treat cancer, could be administered orally rather than intravenously; and Susanna Carou, a Queens native who, while working at the N.J. office of Swiss-based Novartis, examined drug safety signal detection systems and the use of data mining as a tool for detecting safety issues.

“The Capstone Project pushed me to be smarter and better, and to see that we can be successful as pharmacists, working as part of a team, to make products as safe as they can be,” said Ms. Carou, who has accepted a fellowship to work at Novartis following graduation in May.

Three runners-up were Renata Basis, who designed a study to investigate a potential drug combination to modulate heart rate in obese patients, and Niveditha Kadiyala, and Charysh Randolph who designed studies to address genetic mutations in bacteria.

“You have all gained important knowledge and experience and are all winners,” said Dr. Stuart Feldman, dean of the Touro College of Pharmacy, whose vision it was to launch the Capstone Project as part of Touro‟s innovative Doctor of Pharmacy program.

Mr. Pius-Nwagwu said afterwards that he was surprised and humbled by the honor, and that his research improved his analytical skills. He said his work was personally meaningful because he knows people living with sickle cell, a genetic blood disorder most common among individuals of African heritage.

Ms. Devineni, who immigrated to the United States in 2001 from India with her family to follow in her father‟s footsteps and become a pharmacist, noted that she, too, was able to sharpen her skills, including the ability to research vast amounts of scientific literature and distill what she needed to formulate a hypothesis. “It was enlightening,” she said, explaining she learned about how drugs are discovered and designed, something that is not typically part of the pharmacy school curriculum.

The wide-ranging projects were conducted at school, in laboratories, and in corporate settings. One student, Yakov Fattakhov, an Orthodox Jew who immigrated with his family at age 13 from Tajikistan, a country in Central Asia formerly part of the Soviet Union, did his research at the prestigious Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where he investigated better antidotes for nerve gas poisoning than currently exist.

“Most students gained a new perspective on how to develop a research plan, design a study and how to think about ways to implement research - not only as „hard core‟ research but also as „applied‟ research,” said Georgeta Vaidean, M.D., MPH, Ph.D., and associate professor and chair, Department of Pharmacy and Health Outcomes. Dr. Vaidean, who designed and orchestrated the Capstone Project as a research proposal modeled to follow the requirements of a competitive grant application, also expressed her gratitude to the faculty for their “dedication, commitment to quality work and their unfaltering enthusiasm.”

Touro College of Pharmacy, which opened in Harlem in September 2008, is committed to offering increased educational opportunities – especially in Harlem - through programs in pharmacy education, research and scholarship, and through service to the community and the profession. The College will hold its inaugural commencement on May 17th at the New York Academy of Medicine.