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Mercedes Cornelius, Biophysics, Biochemistry and Applied mathematics, 2018 with PKU Mentor, Professor Shao-Qing Cai

An interview with JRI alumna Mercedes Cornelius

Mercedes participated in the JRI Summer Research Program in the summer of 2018 after her graduation from UCLA. She stayed an additional 10 months to continue researching with Prof. Shao-Qing Cai, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences. She has since returned to the United States and is preparing to apply for medical school.

She recently stated, “It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life and if I did not have to attend medical school in the coming years I likely would have stayed in China. The country is beautiful, the people are nice, and food is delicious. I would have never had the opportunity to experience any of it without JRI’s support and time and for that I am grateful. I am a walking testimony of all the opportunities that have been provided to me from this program and all of the other resources that I have taken advantage of that have only been available from UCLA."

Below is a brief interview with her:

1. Why did you want to join the JRI Summer Research Program in China?

I have a long time interest in the Chinese culture. During my studies as a premedical student I discovered traditional Chinese medicine. The fact that it converged my passion for science and my fascination of Chinese martial arts was a plus for me and I decided that I would study Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Wing Chun (ancient form of Chinese martial arts) in China. The JRI program allowed me to accomplish this dream.

2. What was your research project and what were its findings?

My main research project was studying the oncological effects of Da Huang ligands in the mitochondria, which is a well known anti cancer drug (amongst other effects). I studied its identification properties, helped developed its HPLC method (High-performance Liquid Chromatography), a method that helped us test ligand efficacy, and performed chemical analysis to understand the properties in the ligand and mitochondria interaction. Our work allowed us to isolate potential target mitochondria proteins for cancer therapeutics. I also worked on developing a chemical fingerprint methodology for TCM drugs and performed thorough HPLC analysis training to identify TCM drugs in solution and their differentiated activity.

3. How did you decide to extend your time in China and how would you describe your experience in China?

The research that I was doing was intriguing and our team was very productive. So when my professor decided that I had a lot more to contribute to the project and offered to extend my studies in his lab I was ecstatic, and it was one of the best experiences of my life so far. I can best describe it as becoming a mermaid after living on land my whole life, and I have always wanted to be a mermaid.

4. Now that you have returned from China, what are you next plans in terms of education/career? And did the JRI Summer Research Program impact those next steps?

I have a lot of school ahead of me as a future physician scientist so while I’m preparing for that I plan on doing community/charity work, working, or even pursuing a masters in a biotechnology because I want to go into drug discovery which kindled my interest in TCM. I definitely intend on using my interests in TCM for innovative drug discovery especially after seeing its effectivity in the lab and patients who have used it from the JRI summer research program. Stay tuned for part 2!

5. What would you tell students who are thinking about applying for this program?

Something like Nike - Just do it!