Presidential fellows continue legacy of groundbreaking pharmacy research

April 3, 2024
someone's hands working with scientific equipment

Graduate students at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy continue to demonstrate the program’s focus on excellence, receiving four Presidential Fellowship awards within the past four years.  

The Presidential Fellowship is the most competitive and prestigious award that Ohio State gives to recognize the outstanding scholarly accomplishments and potential of graduate students. The fellowship provides funding for recipients’ continued research and completion of their dissertation or terminal degree research project.  

The past four fellows from the college – Ethan Whipp, MS; Josie Silvaroli; Jingyue Yan, PhD ’23; and Ermias Mekuria Addo, PhD ’21, MS ’20 – are upfront about the fact that they’re still learning. In reflecting on their advancements in the field of research, they’re quick to acknowledge the spots in which they’ve stumbled, but they also identify how those challenges have shaped them as researchers. 

“The most important thing about succeeding in the lab is to be curious and enthusiastic in your research, despite the frustration of experiments often not going as expected,” Dr. Yan noted. 

As a graduate student, the focus of research can shift on the whim of events in health care or as PI resources change. What makes exceptional researchers, like these fellows, is the ability to take these changes in stride. 

Ethan Whipp

Ethan WhippEthan Whipp, MS, is the most recent addition to the list of Presidential Fellows from the College of Pharmacy. Whipp was selected to receive the award in Autumn 2023 and will officially have access to fellowship funds in Autumn 2024. 

Whipp is a PhD candidate in the Division of Pharmaceutics and Pharmacology and a current member of Dr. Rosa Lapalombella’s Experimental Hematology Laboratory (EHL) at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). 

“Ethan is well on course to become an independent investigator,” Dr. Lapalombella said. “He has been a driving force in his thesis work, organizing experiments, collecting and analyzing data and coordinating with collaborators.” 

 Before joining the college’s PhD program, Whipp earned his MS in Chemistry at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Wilmington. Dedicated to helping those around him succeed, Whipp has made it a consistent practice to offer his lab expertise to established researchers and future scientists alike. 

Since 2015, Whipp has taken part in mentorship programs for high school and undergraduate students. He continued this work in EHL and has supported an undergraduate lab member in obtaining a Pelotonia Scholars fellowship. 

 Though Whipp is responsible for several projects in EHL, the Presidential Fellowship funds will be devoted to his dissertation project on Richter’s Transformation. This research investigates pathways critical to survival in Richter’s Transformation (RT), a fatal progression from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) to an aggressive large cell lymphoma.  

Whipp noted in his proposal abstract that despite the advancement of treatment for CLL (the most common form of adult leukemia), up to 10% of patients progress to RT, which holds a prognosis of 6-12 months. His research will evaluate therapeutic mechanisms and efficacy with hopes to advance development of targeted therapeutics in RT. 

“Ethan’s effort has greatly surpassed my expectations,” Dr. Lapalombella said in her nomination letter. “He is one of the most promising future scientists I have mentored. I have no doubt that he will make significant contributions to our research community and that his efforts will enhance the lives of cancer patients.”  

Josie Silvaroli

Josie SilvaroliJosie Silvaroli, a fourth year PhD candidate in the Division of Pharmaceutics and Pharmacology, is a current Presidential Fellow. 

Silvaroli’s first appearance in a publication  of any kind was a New York Times health piece about why onions make you cry. Today, her name is attached to 16 major publications – and she shows no signs of slowing down. 

As a member of Associate Professor Navjot Pabla’s, PhD, lab, Silvaroli researches acute kidney injury and associated therapies. Similarl to Whipp, her work branches out into a myriad of niches within the lab’s larger focus.  

Balancing the work spread across her numerous projects is challenging, but Silvaroli continues to find excitement in the rush of discovery.  

“When you finally put your results towards an answer... that’s exciting,” Silvaroli said. “Finding out more and staying curious drives me. Being the first in the field to figure something out is amazing.” 

Amongst her many projects, Silvaroli is continuing with her proposed Presidential Fellowship research. This project investigates the development of protein kinase inhibitors (PKIs), a type of enzyme inhibitor that blocks the action of a protein enzyme. PKIs allow selective targeting of kinases associated with disease pathogenesis, especially cancer.  

Silvaroli’s mentors and nominees are optimistic for where she’ll be heading in the future.  

“I have worked with and trained more than a hundred undergraduate, graduate and medical students, as well as research scientists and postdoctoral Fellows,” Dr. Pabla said. “During these years, I have never encountered a more talented and passionate researcher than Josie.” 

As for Josie, she’s been so busy with research, that she hasn’t fully concluded where she’ll be headed next year – though there’s a definite ring to the sound of teaching. 

Jingyue Yan

Jingyue For nine months, former Presidential fellow Jingyue Yan, PhD ’23, has been conducting research as a scientist with BioNTech SE. Dr. Yan was selected for the Fellowship in autumn 2021.  

While pursuing her PhD, Dr. Yan worked with Yizhou Dong, PhD, former professor in the Division of Pharmaceutics and Pharmacology. Through the Dong Lab, Dr. Yan had the exciting opportunity to research messenger RNA (mRNA) therapies during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. mRNA was recognized as a major proponent in developing the COVID-19 vaccines. 

“In the past few years, mRNA has emerged as a novel type of therapeutic agent for the prevention and treatment of various diseases,” Dr. Yan said. “It was an exciting time to be working on a COVID-19 vaccine at the beginning of the pandemic. Experimenting on an empty campus is not an experience I will soon forget.” 

Aside from her primary research on mRNA-lipid nanoparticles (LNP), Dr. Yan explored CRISPR editing, cancer treatment and pulmonary fibrosis through her research at the college. Since entering the pharmaceutics industry, she’s found a great deal of similarities in her day-to-day responsibilities.  

“The greatest difference in my current work is the narrower scope in which I operate,” Dr. Yan reflected. “As a student, I had to take major responsibility for a project from start to finish. Now, I work on a larger team, allowing me to devote the skills I learned at Ohio State to LNP research.” 

Dr. Yan recently released a major publication in collaboration with Dr. Dong and Ohio State lab mates, topping off her 18 published papers from her graduate research career. 

Ermias Mekuria Addo

Ermias Addo headshotA current postdoctoral researcher in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, Ermias Mekuria Addo, PhD ’21, received the Presidential Fellowship Award in Fall of 2020. 

Before joining Ohio State as a PhD student, Dr. Addo completed a Master of Science at Addas Ababa University (AAU) in Ethiopia. It was during this time, that he first established connections with the Ohio State College of Pharmacy, collaborating as a visiting scholar with Liva Rakotondraibe, PhD, associate professor of the Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy. Together, they conducted research in bioactive natural products for cancer and infectious diseases. 

Throughout his PhD program, Dr. Addo continued to focus on the therapeutic properties of plants. As a graduate researcher in the lab of Professor A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD, DSc, Dr. Addo assisted in anticancer drug discovery derived from tropical (medicinal) plants. Dr. Addo collaborated on his thesis project with Joanna E Burdette, PhD, professor and associate dean for research at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy. 

“His inquisitive nature and passion for knowledge embodies what it means to be a research scientist,” Dr. Burdette highlighted in her nomination of Dr. Addo. “He is truly committed to becoming an expert in natural product chemistry.” 

Today, he continues to research plants as a therapeutic option in treating chronic diseases such as cancer.  

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