While filling out funding applications this past summer, International Studies and Biology senior Victoria Marie Lucas was asked the question, “What does a girl who travels mean to you?” After this past summer, Lucas said she has a better answer to that question. As one of twelve students to attend the University of London, Royal Veterinary College with the CGIS STEM Research program, Lucas studied the impacts of a new drug on mice that were induced with osteoarthritis (OA) to study how it affected the progression of the disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, OA is the most common form of arthritis, with millions of cases worldwide. OA occurs when the cartilage that prevents your bones from rubbing together, particularly in your hands, knees, hips, and spine, wears down over time, resulting in pain, stiffness, bone spurs, and more.
Lucas’ research project was on the antioxidant Sulforadex (SFX-01), a stable form of Sulforaphane which can be found naturally in cruciferous vegetables. By gradually increasing the concentration of SFX-01 that was administered to cells from mice tissue and examining their impacts on bone formation, her group found that the drug can help strengthen bones, keeping them from degrading as fast without cartilage to soften their contact.
By researching OA at a veterinary college with mice as test subjects, Lucas learned about the role animal test subjects play in developing life-altering drugs for humans down the line.
“Normally when you think about veterinary medicine, people forget that you can learn so much from an animal that applies to humans as well. Being a part of a project that starts off in a mouse, but may one day be a long-term, therapeutic drug for a human was awesome,” Lucas said.
Speaking on the impact that these findings could eventually have, Lucas said the drug has already met the Phase II requirements of clinical trials, suggesting that more studies using SFX-01 are able to occur with human subjects in the future. This project was incredibly important for Lucas, as her mother has chronic arthritis. Her mother’s chronic arthritis inspired her to help with research to prevent future cases of OA and provide patients with an affordable alternative treatment as opposed to invasive surgeries.
“I’ve gone with [my mom] to some of her appointments after she’s gotten a scope done on her knees … [The scope] is them flushing out all that fluid that builds up and any debris from bone that has shattered against the other. The needle that goes into that area is large and undoubtedly painful, but the only alternative [if you qualify based on your age] is to have a full knee replacement done … Not everyone can afford that type of invasive treatment. With this drug, it’s an opportunity for preventative medicine,” Lucas said.
Having lived in London for three years, before enrolling at the University of Michigan, Lucas knew how to get around the city, which is a common concern for first-time travelers. However, Lucas said finding support systems as a woman of color in a foreign country can be difficult.
“Being a woman of color in a laboratory setting and having to accept being one the only one, while not being discouraged was challenging. In my cohort, there were 12 of us, which is already very small, but out of that 12, only two of us were African American women. It’s not ideal but it was nice having another person to lean on considering we were in an entirely different culture,” Lucas said.
As far as next steps, Lucas plans to take a gap year before applying to medical school. She hopes to continue working as a lab research assistant, complete a Masters of Science in Clinical Research or Pharmacology before attending medical school to pursue her career in Pathology.
“[Pathology] is the perfect combination of consulting with patients as well as being in a lab that I want as a long-term career,” Lucas said.
Lucas was awarded a Program in International and Comparative Studies (PICS) Summer Research and Internship Grant to help offset the cost of travel and housing while working in another country. PICS offers funding opportunities to U-M International Studies students to encourage them to participate in a study, research, or internship experience abroad to embrace the PICS mission of "learning that transcends borders."