School of Medicine Pharmacology student Jacqueline Plau has earned a Predoctoral Fellowship in Drug Discovery from the PhRMA Foundation. The award includes $25,000 per year in stipend support for promising students in the advanced stages of training and thesis research in drug discovery.
Plau, who is in the Molecular Therapeutics Training Program, is focused on treating toxic vitamin A side products in common eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration, which often leads to vision loss.
“The side products are fluorescent, so you can see them—they light up—when you have an eye exam,” said Plau. “We have developed small inhibitors that would be great drug candidates to prevent the accumulation of these vitamin A components.”
Plau explains that there are no established treatments and existing approaches involve injections into the eye, so an oral drug would be much more comfortable for patients.
Born and raised in Germany, Plau initially came to Case Western Reserve University for an undergraduate summer research program. When she finished her nutritional sciences degree at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, she returned to Case Western Reserve to earn her PhD.
“I can do a great many things with this degree,” exclaimed Plau. “I am intrigued by drug development but there are so many other options like clinical trial work and government or foundation positions.”
Her mentor, Research Principal Investigator and Department of Pharmacology Associate Professor Marcin Golczak, PhD, sees Plau’s potential.
“She’s incredibly competent. In the research field there are many individuals with promising vision, strategy and knowledge—but very few with the skill of bringing life into a laboratory and motivating a team," said Golczak. “It’s not only her research skills but also her determination that give me confidence that Jacqueline is only at the beginning of a bright and prosperous research journey.”
Plau is grateful for Golczak’s leadership and for finding the right fit in a research lab.
“It’s not only the research or what you want to do, it’s who you work with,” stressed Plau. “You are advised to do three lab rotations—I did four—and I talked to people who worked in the lab, asked questions and observed a lot to gain insight into what the next years would look like.”
Plau is impressed with Cleveland and University Circle.
“You have everything—a beach, a national park, a city!” beamed Plau. “And then there is the unique university location, with so many hospitals and the School of Medicine campus in one spot.”
Plau is looking forward to publishing her first authored paper later this year and is still determining whether she will remain in the United States or return to Germany when she completes her degree in 2024.
“I miss family and friends in Europe, but the opportunities are a little more attractive here,” said Plau.