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USM Graduate Student Selected as a 2023 SMDP Biotech Scholar

Wed, 06/21/2023 - 12:52pm | By: Ivonne Kawas Prado

2023 SMDP Biotech ScholarDamilola Oyebode, a native of Oyo State, Nigeria who is pursuing a master’s degree in Biological Sciences with a specialization in Cell and Molecular Biology at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), was selected as a 2023 Biotech Scientist Mentoring and Diversity Program (SMDP) Scholar.

The one-year career mentoring program pairs ethnically diverse students (Baccalaureate, Master, or Ph.D.) and early career researchers with industry mentors who work at companies in the medical technology, biotechnology, and consumer healthcare industries. Oyebode has been matched with industry mentor, Dr. Jimmy Belotte, who holds the position of medical director at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) R&D Oncology Clinical Development.

Oyebode was initially inspired by the positive experiences shared with her by a friend and former SMDP scholar. After hearing about it, she set a personal goal for herself to become a part of this year’s program to get to experience its numerous benefits firsthand.

“Being selected as a Biotech Scholar for the 2023 cohort holds tremendous meaning and value to me,” expressedOyebode. “Learning about the exceptional opportunities SMDP offers, including the chance to network with industry professionals and receive personalized mentorship from an accomplished industry expert, heightened my enthusiasm to want to be a part of the program.”

2023 SMDP Biotech ScholarThrough the one-week SMDP Biotech orientation and training sessions held in Boston earlier this month, Oyebodewas privileged to network with fellow scholars and seasoned mentors from diverse biotechnology and biopharmaceutical backgrounds.

“After participating in the intensive one-week orientation and training session, I can confidently say that SMDP has exceeded my expectations,” said Oyebode. “This experience exposed me to the fundamental aspects of the biotechnology industry, the intricacies of the drug discovery process, and the various career opportunities available.”

Oyebode also got the chance to participate in the renowned BIO International Convention (BIO2023), an esteemed event that brought together more than 15,000 industry scientists and leaders in the field of biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals from around the globe.

“Attending BIO2023 enabled me to network with influential figures in major biotech industries, explore new avenues, and seek valuable professional guidance for navigating my career path,” said Oyebode. “Overall, this opportunity offered by SMDP will undoubtedly enhance my education, research, and professional development, equipping me with the necessary skills and connections to thrive in the biotech field.”

As for being matched with industry mentor, Dr. Jimmy Belotte, Oyebode enthusiastically stated that this year-long mentorship opportunity holds great promise for shaping her professional journey, as it represents a remarkable milestone in her career.

Dr. Belotte's extensive expertise and longstanding dedication to ovarian cancer research, spanning over a decade, perfectly align with my aspirations in the biotech industry,” said Oyebode. “Working alongside Dr. Belotte as my SMDP mentor will undoubtedly have a profound impact on my career trajectory. I am genuinely excited about the learning opportunities that lie ahead and the potential for personal and professional growth under Dr. Belotte's guidance.”

USM, along with Oyebode’s faculty advisor, Dr. Yanlin Guo, have also played a pivotal role in supporting and nurturing her research endeavors. Oyebode’s research focuses on helping mitigate pregnancy complications caused by thefoodborne pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, by unraveling the mechanisms by which Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs) overcomes immunological challenges.

“I am deeply passionate about exploring cutting-edge innovative approaches to studying and addressing gynecological and genitourinary disorders in women and men, respectively. By delving into this specific area, I aim to contribute to a deeper understanding of how ESCs interact with pathogens and identify potential avenues for therapeutic interventions. It is well-documented that a significant percentage of miscarriages result from unsuccessful implantation, which can be attributed to the immunological challenges encountered by the early embryo during embryogenesis.

“Unfortunately, the immune properties of the blastocyst, the preimplantation stage embryo, remain poorly understood, posing challenges in assessing the fate of embryos at this critical developmental phase,” said Oyebode, whose research aims to address this knowledge gap.

The outcomes of addressing this knowledge gap can hold significant implications, as Oyebode’s research can provide crucial insights into the development of innate immunity during the embryonic phase.

Oyebode praises Dr. Guo for his mentorship and says it has been invaluable in fueling her passion for scientific exploration and fostering a deep interest in her field of study.

“The University has provided me with a solid academic foundation, and Dr. Guo has been an exceptional mentor who has been invested in my scientific and professional growth,” said Oyebode. “Dr. Guo's expertise, guidance, and unwavering support have been crucial in my research journey and my quest to seek more professional development opportunities like the SMDP Biotech.”

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