The last five years have been busy ones for Juan Duran—and the next decade or so isn’t looking any calmer.
Four years studying natural science with a pre-med concentration, followed by a year interning at Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, have earned Duran, FCLC ’11, a spot at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College.
First, though, he will travel to Spain for a year as a Fulbright fellow—one of Fordham’s eight winners this year.
“My future was uncertain all of last year, because I applied for the Fulbright in September, and also applied to medical school in September, and I didn’t find out about either until May,” said the Bronx native. “That gap in the middle was just me worrying, not knowing what was going to happen.”
The anxious wait brought gratifying results. In addition to his medical school acceptance, Duran secured a research scholarship at the Cajal Institute in Madrid, one of the oldest and most prestigious neurobiological research centers in Spain.
While the work in Cajal’s department of neuroactive steroids won’t be new for Duran—he spent two months doing research at the institute in 2011 through the International Neuroscience Research Program—he will now have the opportunity to launch his own research. His project, “Traumatic Brain Injury in Astrocytes,” could provide key insights for scientists developing treatment for devastating brain injuries.
“Traumatic brain injuries affect 1.6 million people in the United States every year. It’s a major problem that plagues many people, and it’s going to be around forever, since there’s no way to completely avoid injury,” Duran said.
Of the patients hospitalized for a traumatic brain injury, many die due to a secondary complication such as inflammation, Duran said.
“If you picture the brain like a network of pipes and sponges, the greater the pressure [in a pipe], the less blood can flow through,” he explained. “Over time, that’s what leads to the deaths of these patients.”
Duran’s research focuses on selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs, which are compounds that, among their other roles, can reduce inflammation in the brain. Understanding how SERMs accomplish this could help scientists in developing drugs that do likewise.
“In my study, I’m trying to learn both how the SERMs are able to induce the anti-inflammatory effect and what pathways they use to perform this effectively,” Duran said. “Because once we understand the mechanism of how this works, we can come up with new therapeutic targets… [as well as]target other points in that pathway using multiple drugs to reduce inflammation.
“The big picture of all of this is that we can someday improve the critical care that patients who suffer from traumatic brain injuries receive.”
Before he boards the flight to Spain in August, Duran will work with Fordham’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), a program that helps minority and economically disadvantaged students prepare for careers in science, technology, and the health profession—the same program that exposed Duran to research abroad programs.
“If I were to emphasize anything, I would emphasize my gratitude for the CSTEP program,” he said. “Without them, this wouldn’t be possible at all. They weren’t just helpful in getting the scholarship, they were helpful with applying to medical school—and surviving the last four years.”