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Meet Alexandra Orchard

Researcher Focuses on Developing Drugs to Treat Viruses, Mentoring Students

Oct. 10, 2014

As a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University, Alexandra Orchard conducted research focusing on discovering new drugs to target such viruses as HIV and hepatitis C.

Her latest research interests include using synthetic organic chemistry to make compounds that will act as drugs against high-risk human papillomaviruses, or HPV. Infection with high-risk HPVs can lead to various types of cancers, especially cervical cancer in women, explained the new Cal State Fullerton assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

"There is a vaccine for the virus, but this does not help the millions of people already infected. There are currently no clinically approved anti-viral drugs for treatment of this disease," she said.

"One of the reasons I am interested in HPV, specifically — besides the fact that it's a major unmet medical need and a very common disease — is that I happen to know numerous women my own age who are dealing with high-grade cervical dysplasia, when the HPV-infected cells in the cervix start mutating in a way that will eventually lead to cancer," added Orchard. "I want to give these and other women, and in many cases, men, an easier, safer way to deal with the pain, fear and risks associated with this infection."

She gained valuable experience in medicinal chemistry and anti-viral research through her two-year postdoctoral studies under the mentorship of Dennis C. Liotta at Emory University, known for his discovery of drugs for HIV-positive patients.

While Orchard's interests include developing drugs for HPV and other viruses, she also is eager to provide students with research experiences where they learn about the processes, benefits and consequences of drug-discovery research.

"Teaching is one of my great passions," said Orchard, who earned her doctorate in medicinal chemistry from State University of New York, Buffalo. "I like to get students up and moving and working on practice problems; I like to know their names, find out what they like and how I can help them. Cal State Fullerton provides an environment, culture, mentality and class size that allows me to do all of these things."

She also holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and a minor in visual arts and new media from State University of New York, Fredonia, and is an accomplished figure artist. This fall, in addition to teaching organic chemistry, she is mentoring three undergrads and one graduate student in her lab.

Orchard recently was awarded, along with Amanda Evans, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, a Jean Dreyfus Boissevain Lectureship for Undergraduate Institutions award to bring a lecturer to campus in the spring, and to support student researchers in their labs next summer.

Tags:  Academics & Research