Ever since her young nephew, Cole Kubicza, was diagnosed with Angelman’s Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes developmental disabilities and nerve-related issues, Emily Sparago knew exactly what she was going to do with her life.
“I wanted to major in biology and chemistry at Quinnipiac University because of him,” she said. “I have big plans and getting published is just the first step.”
Sparago, a Cheshire resident and senior at Quinnipiac, recently had one of her articles published by ScienceDirect, a website that provides subscription-based access to a large database of scientific and medical research. Under post graduate student Hanna Mandel and principal investigator W. Mark Saltzman, Sparago and a team of six other students worked on the article entitled “Optimizing Biodegradable Nanoparticle Size for Tissue-Specific Delivery”
The article is set to appear in The Journal of Controlled Release volume 315 — a biweekly, peer-reviewed medical journal and the official journal of the Controlled Release Society — on Nov. 28. The journal covers research on the controlled release and delivery of drugs and other biologically active agents.
“It was a really awesome, great experience,” said Sparago, of working on the project.
The article, which is Sparago’s first published piece, detailed the team’s extensive work with rats to discover how nanoparticles — a technology for drug and gene therapy — is delivered and distributed throughout tissues in the body, specifically the bone marrow and lungs.
The research was done by engineering fluorescent, biodegradable poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) or PLGA nanoparticles in a variety of sizes and using them to determine the effect of diameter on bulk tissue and cellular distribution after administered to the rat by injection.
“It was incredible to work with such a talented team,” she said. “It was so surreal working with experts in a field that I want to go into later on.”
The use of nanoparticles, Sparago explained, is ideal for this type of research because it can target specific tissue rather than a more general area, which is important in creating different medications that can be used to target, say, a cancerous lung tumor, instead of medications that might compromise the entire lung itself.
Sparago’s team discovered that the specific size of the PLGA nanoparticles can be used to tune medication delivery to certain tissues and cell populations in vivo, or within a living organism.
“This is all cutting edge research that can now be cited and used by a variety of different doctors who may use what we discovered in real time,” said Sparago. “It’s all been a fantastic learning experience.”
While Sparago is excited to see what the rest of her senior year has in store at Quinnipiac, another, much sweeter, hobby has kept her going through all the late study nights.
Sparago started Cupcakes by Emily when she noticed all the attention her baked goods were getting at Quinnipiac functions.
“It started when I was working at one of the offices on campus,” Sparago remembered. “I started bringing my baked goods to different functions and people just kept asking for them, one thing lead to another, now I have a side business where I sell cupcakes out of my parents house.”
Sparago’s business has become popular throughout town since she began selling cookies and cupcakes out of her parents house, and were recently offered at the Board of Education candidate forum.
“Science and baking do kind of go together,” said Sparago. “You have to be exact with measurements and certainly things can go very wrong, like they do in the lab.”
Sparago plans get her bachelors in biology and chemistry, and will persue her PhD in her field. Her cupcake business, however, shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.