Explore. Discover. Innovate. A Student’s Research Journey

Published on 11 March 2021

P4 student Sai Dodda has always felt drawn to science and the scientific process of discovery. As a student, his quest for knowledge has led to successful research projects both on campus and through partnerships in the Washington University Medical Campus.

His innovative work has earned him praise at professional conferences, and his research team recently won the top prize at the Infectious Diseases Society of America's (IDSA) IDEA Incubator competition.

“I love the whole process of research: planning, evaluating, enduring setbacks, seeing your hard work pay off with a discovery, and then getting up and doing it all over again with a new problem to solve,” Dodda explained. “I enjoy exploring new things and developing new skills that could ultimately improve a patient’s health in significant ways.”

Dodda’s desire to apply science to real-world problems is what led him to University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis. As a high school student, he enjoyed his science classes, especially chemistry, but wasn’t sure what career to pursue.

“When I was in high school, I had an opportunity to volunteer at a hospital, where I met a pharmacist who told me about the many different opportunities available in pharmacy,” Dodda explained. “It opened my eyes, because I realized I could take my interest in chemistry and use it to help people.”

As a first-year student at the University, Dodda enjoyed his classes but also wanted to learn more about how the principles he was learning played out in real life. After speaking with his advisor about research opportunities on campus, he eagerly joined a biology research lab during the second semester.

“Working in the lab was my first exposure to scientific research,” Dodda explained. “We were studying certain genes in fruit flies that are related to Parkinson’s disease. It was very rewarding work. But as I moved into my professional years, I became more interested in the business side of pharmacy.”

Dodda joined a local pharmaceutical consulting firm as an intern where he learned more about the inner workings of health care. Following his internship, he began working with Scott Micek, Pharm.D., FCCP, BCPS, professor of pharmacy practice and director of the University's Center for Health Outcomes and Education, and Scott Griggs, Pharm.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacy administration and assistant director of the center.

In 2019, Dodda accompanied Micek and P4 student Abbey Jin to the Society of Critical Care Medicine’s 48th Critical Care Congress in San Diego to present their research on sepsis. Micek’s team examined statistical data to determine how variables such as socioeconomic status affected a patient’s risk of dying from the disease. Dodda and Jin were among a small group of students chosen to present at the prestigious conference.

“Before going to San Diego, I had only presented a poster at a much smaller event,” Dodda explained. “When I walked into that room full of experts, I felt very nervous and intimidated. I was afraid they would grill me with tough questions, but they were very supportive of my research."

Dodda also enjoyed attending other presentations at the event and deepening his understanding of health care.

“There’s a difference between learning about a disease in a book and hearing an expert talk about real-world experiences,” Dodda explained. “During the conference, I enjoyed listening to lectures and learning how the information I was studying at the University could be applied to real-life situations.”

Dodda’s passion for solving real-world problems also led him to work with a team of colleagues from Washington University in St. Louis to tackle the problem of medication adherence in patients undergoing outpatient parenteral antimicrobial therapy.

Dodda’s team created the HIVE device, which detects when and for how long patients administer their IV medications at home. In 2019, the team was selected to compete at the IDSA IDEA Incubator competition and was chosen among dozens of competitors as the winner of the $10,000 top prize.

On campus, Dodda and Micek continue to work on the sepsis data project. Under the supervision of Griggs, Dodda is also researching the role of community pharmacists in price negotiations between insurance companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Dodda is grateful for the opportunities that the University has provided to explore his research interests and gain valuable experience that he will take into his career.

 “Not many pharmacy programs offer the variety of research opportunities that I’ve enjoyed in my time at the University,” Dodda explained. “The University and faculty have supported me at every stage in my journey, and I’m excited to see what new challenges my future holds.”


This story was first published in the fall 2020 issue of Script Magazine. To view past issues of Script, visit the Script Magazine archive.

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