"I've been so blessed with not only one, not two, but three mentors at UAlbany. I want to play the same role for inner city kids one day, to be that optimistic influence in their lives."Read More
Karen Torrejon, '10
Pursuing Innovative Scientific Research
During one of her first experiences in a research laboratory, University at Albany senior Karen Torrejon knew instantly that she was wanted to be a scientist.
“Everyone has an encounter that makes them realize what they want to do in life. For me, it was working in the labs during UAlbany’s Summer Research Program,” said Torrejon, a native of Peru. “I realized that an experiment I was conducting could save dozens, even hundreds of lives. It made me see the bigger picture.”
As a dual major in chemistry and physics, Torrejon was paired with mentor Dr. Shaker Mousa of the Pharmaceutical Research Institute, located at UAlbany’s Cancer Research Center. In his lab, she began working with a thyroid hormone, which helps with new blood vessel development. Since the hormone is too powerful to inject directly into the body, Torrejon has been developing a cream or liquid with nanoparticles, which could help treat diseases like gangrene and limb ischemia.
Torrejon continues her work in Mousa’s lab today. She is currently writing a paper on her hormone research for submission to national publications like the Journal of Nanomedicine and the Journal of Nanotechnology.
Even as an undergrad, Torrejon feels right at home in the high-tech lab, amidst many experienced post doctoral fellows and PhDs. She said she’s treated more like a colleague than a student, which speaks volumes about the level of knowledge and scientific know-how of this up-and-coming scientist.
“Karen is an impressive, dynamic young woman,” said Dr. Mousa. “Being recognized for her hard work and talent is well-deserved.”
It hasn’t come easy for Torrejon. At the start of her lab work, Torrejon admittedly knew nothing about nanopharmaceuticals. Motivated by the intellectual challenge, she scoured scientific journals for information. For days, she chose reading articles over sleeping.
“If I hadn’t done that, if I didn’t push myself, I really don’t think I would be where I am today,” said Torrejon, who also serves as president of the campus international medical fraternity, Phi Delta Epsilon. “I love what I do, but I never thought that I would have gotten this far.”
Growing up in Lima, Peru, Torrejon felt that women were given little encouragement to pursue careers in science and research. For that reason, Torrejon co-founded a community enrichment program, “The Magic of Science and Medicine,” aimed at inspiring students of different ages and ethnicities to pursue work in those fields.
“When you see their eyes light up during an experiment and you hear the ‘wows’ from the children, it’s amazing,” said Torrejon, who is pursuing a combined M.D.-Ph.D. program. “That one experiment could be the reason why they decided to be a scientist or a doctor or pharmacist. It’s such a great feeling.”