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Turning Young Enthusiasts Into Scientific Researchers
Miguel Guzman ’24, a native of Lima, Peru, is a senior biotechnology major in the College of Arts and Sciences with an entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises minor in the Whitman School of Management. His research centers on developing bio-enabled protein modification technologies to improve protein-based therapeutics like insulin. Guzman is a Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising-Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (SOURCE) Young Research Fellow.
At the Academic Strategic Plan Launch Symposium Sept. 26, Guzman will take part in a panel discussion about the expansion of STEM at Syracuse University. Syracuse University News sat down with him to discuss his research, his future plans and how Syracuse nurtured his interest in the STEM fields.
01Tell us a little about your research.
If I had to describe my research in one sentence, I would say it is harnessing biology to make bioactive protein-cholesterol-based nanoparticles to improve the performance of FDA-approved drugs.
Nowadays, protein-based and small-molecule therapeutics often include chemical modifications. These modifications are expensive and technically challenging, which increases the overall cost of medications. However, we are using nature as our source of inspiration to achieve these synthetic modifications via post-translational lipidation.
Our early studies suggest that post-translational lipidation will expand the functionality and bio-capability of therapeutics like abiraterone, an FDA-approved treatment for prostate cancer, and calcitonin, an FDA-approved treatment for osteoporosis.
02How did you get interested in STEM? What drove you to the biotech major?
Interestingly, in high school, my dream was to pursue a career in mathematics. After my admission to Syracuse, I realized I had to take general chemistry or introductory biology [so] I signed up for summer biology tutoring in my home country, Peru, because I had not taken this subject in high school.
I wanted to be prepared for whatever Syracuse threw my way. These classes introduced me to the field of biology; I learned about DNA, proteins and cells. This experience convinced me that nature does fantastic things to overcome biological barriers … I realized that I wanted to dedicate my studies at the university to one specific field: biotechnology.
03What do you plan to do after graduation?
Eventually I would like to pursue a Ph.D. in bioengineering, primarily focused on protein engineering. I am highly interested in how we can redesign proteins to expand our understanding and development of drug delivery mechanisms for novel therapeutics. Hopefully, these advancements will one day benefit the way we treat cancer, cystic fibrosis and autoimmune diseases.
04Student research opportunities are not just for doctoral students—in fact, many undergraduates are deeply involved in research. Talk about some of the research opportunities you’ve had during your time at Syracuse.
During my first semester at Syracuse, I attended multiple seminars given by undergraduates who were doing research in various labs, and their research topics included aspects from medicinal chemistry to molecular biology. My interest in bio-enabled materials was nurtured after attending a seminar on protein lipidation and how it can be used to improve the delivery of anticancer drugs.
I contacted Davoud Mozhdehi (associate professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences) and joined his bio-enabled materials research lab. I was amazed by this firsthand research experience and the characterization techniques the lab was using, like high-performance liquid chromatography and dynamic light scattering to develop protein-cholesterol based materials. From the minute I joined the lab, Dr. Mozhdehi trusted my abilities and gave me the confidence to run highly ambitious experiments that fostered my curiosity.
My relationship with him is horizontal and not vertical. He strongly believes that to drive research forward, the ideas of graduate students, undergraduate students and postdoctoral researchers all have the same value. This philosophy has contributed to my confidence because I feel I work in an environment where my ideas are welcomed, which ultimately enriches our scientific discussions.
05The academic strategic plan outlines a commitment to expanding STEM at Syracuse University over the next five years. From your perspective as a student in STEM, why is this is an important goal?
Our mission statement explicitly mentions interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial endeavors. STEM lies at the intersection of these aspirations; whether measuring the efficiency of a certain drug or developing a statistical model that maps the drug’s delivery, STEM research has tangible and measurable impacts. The last few years should serve as a lesson. Scientific inquiry can potentially alleviate man’s most significant burdens and illness. STEM must be a top priority.
Moreover, expanding STEM is an essential goal because my experience could be the norm for new or upcoming undergraduate students. This expansion across natural sciences and engineering departments will lead to the development of young enthusiasts into scientific researchers.
“Leading With Distinction,” Syracuse University’s new academic strategic plan, was unveiled earlier this month following a yearlong planning and development process involving hundreds of people from across the University community. Implementation of the five-year plan begins this fall. To learn more, visit academicaffairs.syracuse.edu/asp.