From the time Brianna Guarino was a psychology undergraduate at Hilbert College in western New York, she knew she wanted to do cancer research. And when she was looking for a Ph.D. program, she recognized a great fit when she started reading online about the work being done by Charles Thodeti, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Medical Sciences who conducts research in the Heart and Blood Vessel Disease Research Focus Area at Northeast Ohio Medical University.
Not quite four years since coming to NEOMED, this go-getter – as Dr. Thodeti called her in a joint Zoom conversation – successfully defended her dissertation, earning a Ph.D. from the Integrated Pharmaceutical Medicine program. This summer, Dr. Guarino will begin a postdoctoral fellowship at the Providence (Rhode Island) VA Medical Center through Brown University. The position is funded by a highly coveted T-32 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
In Providence, Dr. Guarino will investigate how acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) causes endothelial/blood vessel dysfunction. The ultimate goal of such research is to lay groundwork to find a treatment.
But the research process is often measured in years, if not decades, and Dr. Guarino is focused on the here and now.
The research she completed at NEOMED gave her a good foundation.
“In my dissertation, I investigated how the environment surrounding tumors causes abnormal vessel growth,” she said. “I concluded that tumor cells release particles that basically act as delivery systems to communicate with the cells that make up blood vessels. The communication process transforms those cells, causing them to be abnormal,” Dr. Guarino explained.
Dr. Guarino doesn’t hesitate for a minute when asked what she’ll remember most about NEOMED when she departs for the East Coast: “All the friends I’ve made,” she says, “and Dr. Thodeti. He’s been very encouraging. He supports us in our goals.”
Taking classes for the first two years with the other IPM students and with College of Pharmacy students led naturally to close bonds, said Dr. Guarino. She liked the interprofessional aspects of the learning at NEOMED. In addition to her primary research in Dr. Thodeti’s lab, she worked with Matthew Smith, Ph.D. (a 2017 graduate of the IPM program who co-chairs it with Priya Raman, Ph.D.) on an eye research study.
Dr. Guarino also had the chance to be on the other side of the classroom, as the teaching assistant for a pharmacy class in pharmacodynamics/pharmacokinetics. Through all of these experiences, she appreciated the “small-school vibe” at NEOMED and the experience of living nearby in Kent, Ohio.
Most important, though, was the supportive mentoring by Dr. Thodeti, who gave her a project from the start. “I wasn’t just watching; I was learning hands on, right away,” she said.
From his appreciative perspective, this student’s work ethic and drive were obvious from the beginning, said Dr. Thodeti, noting, “She’ll set a goal and work hard for it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic necessarily limited the size of Dr. Guarino’s dissertation defense, which was conducted Monday, April 19, as a hybrid event. The good news was that her parents and fiancé were able to attend in person. And with a post-doc fellowship at a top institution lined up already, Dr. Guarino has plenty of reasons to cheer.
Photo: Brianna Guarino and her dissertation advisor, Charles Thodeti