SBS graduate wants to share her passion for research with the world

Akpedje DossouWhen Dr. Akpedje “Serena” Dossou was a just a teenager in Lome, Togo, two of her grandparents were diagnosed with cancer. Despite her family’s efforts to ensure they received the best possible care they both passed away before she graduated from high school.  

“This first exposure to a difficult-to-treat disease, to the importance of early detection and of safe and effective treatments developed in me an interest in contributing to the betterment of patient care,” Dossou said. 

That experience left a lasting mark on Dossou, who graduated in May with her PhD in Biomedical Sciences with a concentration in Biochemistry and Cancer Biology from The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. After exploring ways to deliver better treatments for diseases like cancer in her graduate studies, she’s now a research scientist implementing assays for timely and accurate test results. 

With an initial interest in becoming a pharmacist, Dossou first discovered her passion for laboratory research while earning her BS in Biology and Chemistry at UNT in Denton.  

“I was very much inspired by our team’s lightbulb moments as well as by the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the scientific endeavor,” Dossou said.  

“I wanted to utilize this newly found interest in conducting biological research with my passion for the betterment of patient care, and the answer was biomedical sciences.” 

Her next step was graduate school at HSC, first earning her MS in Biomedical Sciences before entering the PhD program. She joined the Lipoprotein Drug Delivery Research Lab under the supervision of Dr. Andras Lacko and took on a new research project that explored using lab-synthesized high-density lipoprotein nanoparticles to target immune cells found in cancerous tissue with the goal of slowing the progression of tumors in cancer patients.  

“My PhD project in the Lipoprotein Drug Delivery Research Lab has been one of the most thrilling journeys I have undertaken,” Dossou said. 

“The project introduced me to the complex world of immunology, pharmaceutical sciences and biophysics, thereby expanding my experience in biomedical sciences.” 

Dossou’s affinity for biomedical research has also led to some remarkable academic achievements. This year she was honored with the SBS Dean’s Award for Scholarly Achievement in Academics, and at commencement she received the HSC President’s Award for Scholarship Excellence in Academics. 

“Serena’s scientific contributions in the fields of drug delivery, cancer and immunology resulted in several high-impact publications. In addition to her research, Serena’s academic prowess, community service and outreach, and leadership abilities resulted in an extremely well-rounded and marketable PhD graduate,” said Dr. Rance Berg, associate professor microbiology, immunology and genetics and assistant dean for graduate education and admissions at SBS. 

But along with the successes there came some uncertainty as well. When Dr. Lacko retired, she continued her training and research in the Lipoprotein Drug Delivery Research Lab under the supervision of Dr. Rafal Fudala, who passed away during her training. 

“Serena was steadfastly pursuing her PhD under the excellent mentorship of Dr. Rafal Fudala when he unexpectedly passed away. I was fortunate enough to be in a position to essentially take over as her major professor,” Berg said.   

“Serena required very little mentoring at that time and forged ahead in spite of the circumstances. I can say that she is one of the most resilient, independent, creative, passionate, and hard-working PhD students I have ever had the pleasure of mentoring. I am immensely proud of her success.” 

Dossou says that resilience was possible with support from the team at SBS. 

“HSC provided me with a nurturing environment through course instructors, classmates, lab members, staff and mentors. This supportive environment enabled me to make the most of intramural and extramural learning opportunities,” Dossou said.  

When she completed her PhD in December 2023, she accepted a new position as a senior research and development scientist for the Core Lab at Sonic Reference Laboratory, a clinical diagnostics lab specializing in analytical chemistry, molecular, hematology, immunology and clinical chemistry testing. 

“In my current position, I am applying my expertise in research project management, biochemistry, cancer biology, immunology, and various other biomedical sciences, as well as the different technical skills I have learned at HSC, to develop and implement new assays,” she said.  

In the future, Dossou wants to share her passion for science with others through mentorship and contribute to research that facilitates timely and accurate physician diagnoses, which in turn, will ultimately save patient lives. 

“I hope to have the opportunity to give back to my hometown, Lome, by establishing a clinical laboratory or facilitating early exposure of students to a research laboratory environment to inspire future Togolese scientists,” she said. 

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