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College of Pharmacy

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Pharmacy lab assistant accepted to M.D./Ph.D. program

Since the time she conducted her first research experiment as a student at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, Darby Porter was hooked on research.

While completing her undergraduate studies in chemistry and neuroscience at the University of South Carolina Honors College, Porter joined the lab of Jun Zhu, Ph.D., in the College of Pharmacy. After graduating in 2023, Porter continued as Zhu’s lab assistant and has now been accepted into the Medical Science Training Program to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Porter joined Zhu’s lab after searching through the university’s research registry.

“I typed in drug discovery and drug design, and while I didn’t understand what much of it meant, I thought Dr. Zhu’s research was a good option because I knew what the main keywords were – dopamine and HIV,” she says.

Turns out, it was the perfect fit for Porter’s ambition to conduct research and do benchwork.

“I love conducting experiments and analyzing results,” she notes. “I love connecting the results from one experiment or set of experiments to a broader issue that is affecting people’s health. Being able to tie in what is happening at the molecular level with patients who are experiencing a disorder is a nice blend that I want to incorporate into my career.”

I love connecting the results from one experiment or set of experiments to a broader issue that is affecting people’s health.

Darby Porter

Porter developed an interest in serving patients alongside her research while working at CAN Community Health, an HIV- clinic providing care to underserved health populations in the Columbia area.

Zhu noted Porter’s dedication to successfully conducting experiments as well as drafting manuscripts and grant applications.

“What distinguishes Darby from other students is her deep interest and passion about her work and the potential implications it may have on human health,” Zhu adds. “She is an example to students who want to develop their career in the field of biomedical science. For faculty, it is our responsibility to not only provide research training opportunities but also guide students for future career development.”

Porter will begin the arduous eight-year process of earning her M.D./Ph.D. in June, where she will begin her studies in translational research before starting her medical school studies in the fall.

“I think I want to eventually do clinical research,” she says, “The advantage of having an M.D. and a Ph.D. is that you can identify a therapeutic target on the bench and then develop some level of treatment while working with patients. I like the idea of working on one project and seeing it to completion.”

Topics: Research, Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences

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