Cancer research and entrepreneurial opportunities help BSPS student create a better world

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January 31, 2022

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College of Pharmacy Student Spotlight: Amani Djouadi, BSPS Class of 2023

The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy is shining a spotlight on students throughout the year. Meet Amani Djouadi, a third-year Bachelor of Science of Pharmaceutical Sciences (BSPS) student from Columbus, Ohio.

Djouadi’s experiences working in research labs and for a start-up organization, alongside her academic involvement, are creating a strong foundation for a future in pharmaceutical industry research.

Why did you choose the BSPS program?

The summer before my senior year in high school, I attended the Pills, Potions and Poisons program at the College of Pharmacy. I really liked the college and how close-knit the culture seemed. All the faculty were super helpful, and I saw myself fitting in here.

In high school I knew that I wanted to go into a life science field. I enjoyed chemistry and biology but in both of those fields it’s difficult to find real life applications. The BSPS program allows students to apply their scientific knowledge to real disease states and medications – and that’s what drew me here.

So, when application season came around, I knew I had to apply.

Tell me about your research experiences?

Research takes up most of my time and keeps me engaged.

I was beyond elated when I got the news that I received the CREATES Fellowship – a cancer research position at the Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC—James). I knew it would allow me to connect with other cancer researchers and gain new perspectives. I also knew it would give me the opportunity to fine-tune my research skills. I’ve already learned so much from the other Fellows in this program and their research, and I’m really excited for the rest of this year and beyond. 

Amani Djouadi with CREATES Fellows
Amani Djouadi, sixth from left, with other undergraduate CREATES Fellows

In this research position, I’m working on a cancer vaccine that is being formulated and tested pre-clinically. The faculty member leading the research, Carlos Castro, PhD, is a mechanical engineer that works on nanotechnologies. The team consists of biomedical engineers, chemical engineers and biomedical scientists. I’m specifically working on the delivery of this vaccine using alginate particles – a natural, non-toxic, biocompatible substance.

I love cancer research because it is a fast-paced field and is constantly changing. There are a lot of resources and funding going around for it, so it is easy to find your place within it and excel.

I also have a personal connection to it. My brother was diagnosed with cancer about 10 years ago and seeing how much improvement has been made since that time has really inspired me to be a part of pushing the field forward.

This past summer I also did a research and entrepreneurial internship with Dr. Castro’s lab and another lab through the electrical engineering department. The research resulted in creating a rapid COVID-19 sensor. I helped the team translate their research to the market while looking at different market segments. I enjoyed the entrepreneurial aspect of the project and it helped me discover that I’d like to work in a start-up environment.

I hear you are a part of a start-up that was selected for the Buckeye Accelerator Program.

Right now, I am the director of research for a non-profit called Smile Child. Our goal is to create an app that helps caretakers and parents learn best practices on how to take care of infants with the goal of reducing infant mortality.

Last December, my group learned that we were accepted into the Buckeye Accelerator Program - an entrepreneurship program that teaches participants how to establish a start-up and allows them to potentially gain funding at the end, so I’m really excited about that. We are one of 34 groups to be selected. This is the program that university President Dr. Kristina Johnson launched. 

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I’m glad I kept an open mind because I really found something that I am passionate about.

Amani Djouadi Headshot
Amani Djouadi
BSPS Class of 2023
Amani Djouadi
Amani Djouadi conducting research in a lab

How do you see these experiences shaping your future?

After graduating from the BSPS program, I want to get my PhD. I’m not sure which specific program I want to go into but I am leaning toward immunology and planning to stay within the cancer field, hopefully. 

I thought that after my PhD I would go into academia but the more I experience with entrepreneurship, the more I see myself working within a start-up. I enjoy the fast-paced nature of it all so I am definitely leaning toward pharmaceutical industry start-ups.

What advice would you give to incoming students with similar goals?

Get involved in research early. There are so many things that you can do at Ohio State and the College of Pharmacy. Faculty at the college are open to having student researchers, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them. They are great mentors who want to help grow the next generation of scientists.

Be open-minded. When I first started at Ohio State, I thought that I had to have all my interests figured out at the beginning. I learned that I had to let myself be open-minded and grow. Going into college, I didn’t give much thought to entrepreneurship until after these experiences.