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Budding chemist studies folic acid to target tumor cells

Summer program bridges students to a future in science, research

Click photos for hi-res images:

  • L-r: Professor Gutierrez and Brittany Ulloa.
  • Brittany Uloa
  • Folate acid in flasks.

Check out video of poster presentation:

Picture of Brittany Ulloa.
Bridges to the Future Program participant Brittany Ulloa conducting research in Professor Gutiérrez’s lab.

After spending 10 weeks this summer reading through scientific studies and running experiments in a chemistry lab at Cal State L.A., Brittany Ulloa wants to delve further into her research involving folic acid’s ability to target tumor cells and its potential for drug delivery and biotechnology.

This fall, she will transfer to Cal State L.A. through the University’s Honors College. She will also be involved with the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement Program, one of the Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE) Programs at CSULA.

Ulloa, who currently attends Pasadena City College, explained that she is choosing to pursue a biochemistry degree at CSULA due to the University’s “amazing research and educational enrichment programs.”

Working alongside postdoctoral associate Claudia Molina in Professor Carlos Gutiérrez’s lab, Ulloa has been studying “Folic acid as a targeting domain on 1,3,5,7-tetrakis(aminomethyl)adamantine” as a participant of CSULA’s Bridges of the Future summer program.

The program, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is focused on developing the pool of talented minority students who will eventually become leaders in biomedical research.

“The aim of our research is to make modular units that bear molecular domains that are recognized by cancer cell surface receptors,” said Ulloa. “These can be attached to diagnostic or therapeutic agents, increasing the efficacy of these. We are doing this by attaching multiple folic acids units onto an adamantane core.”

According to faculty adviser Gutiérrez, professor of chemistry and director of the MORE Programs, “Since some tumor cells express many more receptors for folate than normal cells, the targeting domains Brittany is building should allow us to concentrate diagnostic or therapeutic agents right on the cancer cells. Brittany has been a diligent and and insightful co-worker this past summer. I predict much success for her in a research career.”

Last month, Ulloa—along with 11 other community college students participating in the NIH-summer program—presented results from their research at the Summer Student Research Poster Presentation held at the La Kretz Lobby on the CSULA campus.

The event also included poster presentations by CSULA students in the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program and Project SEED.

Once Ulloa completes her bachelor’s degree at CSULA, she is interested in obtaining an M.D./Ph.D. to pursue a career in research and medicine. “I want to combine the two and apply them in my work in either organic chemistry or immunology,” she said.

Ulloa credits Professor Gutiérrez for his support and guidance, saying, “He is very student-oriented and a great mentor. He really makes scientific research exciting and tangible.”

A fellow Bridges to the Future program participant, Ephraim Morado will also transfer to CSULA this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in organic chemistry. His research is titled “The Synthesis of Mixed-bridge Diquinoxaline Baskets.”

“Basically we’re making Resorcin(4)arene-based molecular capsules and baskets that can potentially act as a transportation system for foreign molecules,” explained Morado, who currently attends Glendale Community College. “Through CSULA’s support programs, I’m hoping to achieve a Ph.D. in chemistry and become a college professor someday.”

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Last Update: 01/12/2016