You stay very busy for someone so young! Let’s start with your education path at Liberty University.
I am a junior at Liberty University. I’m pursuing a major in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Psychology. I’ve taken major sciences including Genetics, Cell Biology, Organic Chemistry, Anatomy and Microbiology. Liberty University has been a stepping-stone to where I am today.
Aside from those demanding classes, you started an LU chapter of the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC). How did that come about?
This started during my last summer research internship. At the end of the internship I went to the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., to present my research. There I had the opportunity to meet other students from around the nation. One of them had been a part of the Harvard FIMRC chapter. After hearing more about FIMRC from her, I realized this was an organization I wanted to be a part of.
Why do you have a passion for international medicine?
Being from Puerto Rico, studying here in the mainland U.S., and interacting with international students have helped me realize that there certainly is a need for improved healthcare in many parts of the world, including the U.S. As an aspiring physician and Christian I want to do my part in providing this care.
You completed not one, but two internships with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Getting one of those couldn’t have been easy!
Yes, it all started freshmen year during a meeting with a professor from the Eagle Scholars Program at Liberty University. He challenged me to apply to a competitive internship for the summer. I found the NIH’s STEP-UP Program and at first I was actually scared of applying. It was competitive and I felt I wouldn’t get in anyways. It certainly took a lot of time, effort, prayer, and motivation. However, I knew this was something I wanted to do.
And one of those internships put you in the national spotlight. Tell us about your PTSD research.
For both summers I researched at the Ponce Health Sciences University under the topic of Fear Conditioning and Extinction. Basically, the lab uses an animal model to study the fear pathway, mimicking PTSD. For my research, we lowered the expression of a protein previously linked to PTSD called FKBP5 in the ventral hippocampus (involved in memory formation).
Our project showed that these lower levels lead to more fear that was harder to extinguish than the control group. Similar to what is seen in PTSD. Along with all the research done in the lab, this can shed more light on how PTSD works.
Once you leave LU, what’s your plan? Do you have a career goal?
I know I want to go into medicine. I am currently considering pursuing either an M.D. or an M.D./Ph.D. Eventually, my goal is to treat patients, and I like the idea of doing some research as well that could go on to help more people.