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2021 Winners of the Elmer M. Plein Endowed Research Fund Announced

Congratulations to Rachel Wittenauer and Qingcheng Mao, 2021 recipients of the Elmer M. Plein Endowed Research Fund, an award established to encourage, promote and support research and innovative practice in pharmacy.

Rachel, a CHOICE Program PhD student originally from Palo Alto, California, says the fund will help her to continue pursuing her research on Washington State’s “pharmacy deserts” – communities that are both low-income and have low geographic access to pharmacies.

“This is the first grant I’ve received as the lead researcher of a project, which is an exciting milestone in my academic career,” she said. “Receiving this support from the department for independent work through the Elmer M. Plein Research Fund is a fantastic opportunity. I’ll be able to apply the methods I’ve learned in the classroom to real-world community health issues and continue my development as a researcher.”

Rachel narrowed in on “pharmacy desert” research with the help of three faculty mentors – Andy Stergachis, Jennifer Bacci and Parth Shah. Ultimately, she hopes her work will provide actionable guidance for state and local leaders to strengthen healthcare access for communities where it is needed most – both during the pandemic response and beyond.

“My project advances the growing body of literature on pharmacy deserts in the U.S., and leverages publicly available data, which I hope will spur further study and eventual policy action to address this crucial access gap,” she added.

Another 2021 recipient, Qingcheng Mao, an associate professor for the Department of Pharmaceutics, intends to use the funding to continue working on research linking gut microbiomes to human physiology and diseases.

“This research remains largely unexplored, as there is very little information available on how the gut microbiome modulates host metabolism of drugs,” he said. “These studies represent the first step to address a critical knowledge gap in this area, and will have significant clinical implications in precision medicine as well as food-drug and drug-drug interactions.

“I feel honored to receive this award which allows me to conduct the research that I’m interested in and is important for drug disposition and therapy.”