For the past few months, Desert Vista High School alum Ali Icenogle has been involved with a research project at the University of Arizona that examines how prescription drugs influence gene expression.

According to a statement from the university, the project focuses on valproic acid (VPA), which is used for epilepsy and bipolar disorder and has been shown to cause metabolic and reproductive side effects within 50 percent of patients.

One of the key objectives for the research project was to better understand how these medications can disrupt the hormonal pathways in the body that regulate important processes, such as metabolism and reproduction.

In order to determine how VPA influence these processes, the study investigates how the drug changes the way genes are normally regulated by hormones, according to UA’s statement.

The principal investigator, Dr. Catharine Smith, said in the statement that, “now that these drugs … are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they are being evaluated in the treatment of additional diseases. Thus, it is probable that human exposure to these drugs will increase in the future.”

Icenogle, a junior who is majoring in biochemistry, said she and her team were in the final stages of the project.

“One of the interesting subsets that we learned about valproic acid was how this clinically relevant drug can change the way genes are expressed in the body,” she said.

Icenogle’s involvement in the research project stemmed from her days at Desert Vista.

“When I was a senior in high school, I took a biotechnology course and a lot of the lab techniques I learned there are relevant here,” she said. “I felt that the concepts I learned there were super interesting and was one of the reasons why I decided to pursue research in the field that I’m working on.”

Icenogle said being involved with the research project not only helped her gain knowledge about the project, but also improved social and patient skills for her everyday life.

“The whole concept of doing research is completely different from academia,” she said. “I think it’s really important for students, especially in science, to get involved with research because it’s easy to learn how to take exams, but until you really apply it, you’re not really experience the extent to which science applies to the real world.”

She also felt the project would assist her with her class studies, and she looks forward to start the fall semester on the right track.

Icenogle plans to work in the College of Pharmacy’s laboratory at UA until she graduates.

“I’m excited to start up school again because I definitely feel that I will be sharper in terms of my research and studying in general,” she said.

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