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School of Medicine Columbia

Kandy Velazquez

Easing the pain: PREP Alumna and Postdoctoral Fellow awarded NIH award to study cancer pain

The daughter of two teachers, Kandy Velázquez developed a passion for learning early. From a young age she also knew she was interested in science, but she fell in love with research while studying at the University of Puerto Rico.  “I love research because it can answer questions,” Velázquez says. “Any question that you have, you can answer with science.”

Kandy, however, needed more preparation before she could enter graduate school and came to the University of South Carolina to join the Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) after which she was admitted to the Ph.D. program in Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. 

During her doctoral studies, Kandy’s research took a more personal turn when her aunt, Eva Velázquez, was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.

After graduation with a Ph.D. degree, Kandy spent a while teaching at a small college but returned to Columbia to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr Angela Murphy, an associate professor in the Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology Department at the School of Medicine.

In 2017, Kandy submitted an application for a Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health. Her grant was approved, and she will receive nearly $1 million to fund her research on how ojeok-san, a traditional herbal formula, may help curb pain for cancer patients.

“I hope the work I’m doing now will make things a little better for cancer patients” she says. “If natural supplements like ojeok-san can be used in combination with opioids to manage pain, then maybe the patient can be more conscious and be more active in their own care.”

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