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Student Spotlight: Isabella Melena

For Drury senior Isabella Melena, a summer internship turned into an opportunity to dive headfirst into her career field and affirm her college decision.

A biochemistry major at Drury, Melena was selected to the Graduate Experience for Multicultural Students at the University of Colorado Denver’s Anschutz Medical Campus. For ten weeks last summer, she worked under practicing pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Kristen Nadeau, delving into the most recent science surrounding adolescents and type 1 diabetes.

Research with a purpose

Over the course of the summer, Melena worked on two different projects. The first of these projects sought to better understand the relationship between diabetes in adolescents and their future risk for cardiovascular disease.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in the world and it is also the leading cause of death in diabetics,” Melena says. “But characterization and diagnosis of cardiovascular disease is hard. The best ways are either with an echo-cardiogram or a cardiac MRI, but both of these are expensive and require a lot of time.”

Thus, Melena’s research focused on measuring biomarkers in the blood to see how they can be used as indicators of cardiovascular health. The hope is that this research can one day be used to evaluate a patient’s risk for cardiovascular disease through simple bloodwork, enabling better, more proactive treatment. 

The second project focused on how obesity compounds the challenges of diabetes. Melena’s research suggested that when adolescents with type 1 diabetes are also obese, their bodies exhibit similar insulin resistance to those of adolescents with type 2 diabetes. 

Melena says this research can serve as an advisory for type 1 diabetes patients.

“This means that we should focus on the lifestyle changes and the weight control that we focus on in the treatment of type 2 diabetics, instead of just merely trying to control their blood sugar,” she says.

Prepared for the future

While Melena hopes that the work she did will someday be used for the benefit of others, she knows it has already been beneficial to her.

“I spent the summer getting a taste of what I would do for the rest of my life in that field and having that experience was really life-changing to me,” Melena says. “It affirmed that my classroom studies were actually applicable to the real-world, because I could see the biochemistry that I learned in the work that I was doing.”

 “I definitely feel like the classes I took at Drury prepared me for that,” she adds. “I had the background knowledge needed in order to understand what we were working on and the relationships in the data that we had.”

At the end of the summer, Melena had the opportunity to present her findings as part of the research program. In January, she hopes to present on the research again in a much larger setting at the Western Medical Research Conference in Carmel, California.

The experience serves as a next step for Melena as she approaches graduation and readies herself for her future career.

“Part of the reason I wanted to go to a medical research summer program like this was because I was kind of on the fence about what I wanted to do after graduation,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to medical school, or if I wanted to go get my doctorate, or if I wanted to do both. And this summer really let me explore all of those options.”

Story written by Marketing & Communications graduate assistant Bryan Haynes.