Portrait photo of U of T student Jenny Cheung against brick wall

Jenny Cheung, a fourth-year U of T student, received the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy 2020 Undergraduate Summer Research Program Poster Award earlier this summer.

“The summer research program allowed me to learn more about what’s going on in my field, and provided me an opportunity to meet and connect with like-minded individuals,” said Cheung, a student in U of T Medicine’s Joint Pharmacology and Biomedical Toxicology Specialist program.

Origins of Pharmacy’s Undergraduate Summer Research Program (USRP) date back more than 40 years ago and today it’s led by the Research Office. It provides undergraduate students within LDFP and across Canada a unique opportunity to participate in research related to the molecular basis of drug targets and diseases, drug development and disease diagnostics, drug safety, health services research, or clinical pharmacy research.

This year the program operated safely through a remote-access format, with some students getting laboratory experience under the Faculty’s Research Restart and Recovery plan. Cheung was one of 11 USRP participants and she spent the summer conducting pain research in Professor Robert Bonin’s lab. Her project, “Inflammation-induced peripheral hyperalgesia perturbs neuronal function in the superficial dorsal horn of the spinal cord,” explored how the spinal cord responds to chronic pain.

“My project findings demonstrate a change in neural activity in a specific region of the spinal cord, which opens the door to further studies to better understand what is occurring and how we may be able to reverse these effects to treat chronic pain,” said Cheung.

This annual poster day was an important opportunity for students to present their research to peers and faculty members. Typically the award is supported by the Canadian Society for Pharmaceutical Sciences (CSPS) and the winner is invited to present their poster at the annual CSPS Symposium. While there’s uncertainty about the spring CSPS Symposium, Cheung will have an opportunity to present at the Faculty’s upcoming Graduate Research in Progress (GRIP) Symposium.

For Cheung, participating in the USRP in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic was a no-brainer.

“I was able to go into the lab, albeit for less time than what I would have preferred, but the experience of being a part of this program was still fulfilling. Virtual lab meetings were a nice way to connect with colleagues and my graduate mentor was a big help in my introduction and adjustment to the new lab environment,” said Cheung.

“To those considering pharmaceutical research as a potential graduate degree path, look for as many opportunities as possible in the field, and talk to upper-year students and professors to learn about research directions – there’s a lot more in pharmaceutical research than you would think!”

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