West to Earn Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences
Abby West combined courses in biology and chemistry to create her own individualized major at UMF, and is now earning a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Maryland.
Although the program encompasses all aspects of drug development from design to clinical trials, West said she is particularly interested in conducting gene therapy research to identify ways to alter the genetic sequence of microbes, thus rendering them harmless to human beings.
“The reason bacteria become drug resistant so quickly is because when bacteria are invaded by an antibiotic, they enter an SOS ["save our ship"] system of DNA replication, causing a rapid rate of genetic mutations before exploding and dying. These random mutations that occur ensure continued survival of the bacterial species,” she said. “The search for new antibiotic drugs to fight drug-resistant bacterial diseases is an ongoing and losing battle. Bacteria will always find a way to adapt. If we can understand how to change the genetic make up of microbes, then we can alter them so they never go into survival mode and spread drug-resistant mutations.”
West supplemented studies in biology and chemistry at UMF with a research internship at Maine’s Mount Desert Island Biological Institute and a Maine State Government Summer Internship at the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory. Having worked as a teaching assistant in Organic Chemistry I and II courses at UMF helped West secure a highly competitive graduate teaching assistantship, which means that in exchange for teaching freshmen-level biology and chemistry courses at Maryland she will receive a tuition waiver and modest salary.
West has a simple, but potent motive for developing the next generation of pharmaceutical remedies.
“Whenever I get sick, I don’t want to just get better. I want to know what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. I chose to pursue a Ph.D. instead of going into production-oriented lab work right out of college because focusing on research will give me the opportunity to keep asking ‘Why?' which is a question I never want to stop asking in science,” she said. “With gene therapies we can get ahead of wide-scale diseases like bird flu, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS and maybe even the common cold.”