Washington College science majors know you don’t have to attend a prestigious research university to participate in groundbreaking studies.
For her senior thesis, Sarah Macht ‘10 completed an analysis of the drug fluoxetine, the active ingredient in Prozac. A double-major in chemistry and psychology, Sarah took a two-pronged approach to her research.
“For psychology, we looked at the effects of fluoxetine on behavior, and for chemistry, we analyzed and determined the structure of fluoxetine in biological specimens. It’s two things I’m really interested in and seeing how they work hand in hand was really cool,” Sarah says.
It was also cool because the subjects of the study were tilapia that biology professor Martin Connaughton treated with Prozac.
Sarah had the chance to catch some fish of her own while on a three-week long sea kayaking expedition in Baja during the winter break of her senior year. A member of the College’s Cater Society of Junior Fellows, Sarah received a grant to fund the trip, offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School.
“The whole focus is on leadership, and we also learned navigation and technical skills, like how to spearfish,” Sarah says. “I was really nervous going into it, but I hoped it would really open my eyes.”
The trip was a journey outside of Sarah’s comfort zone, but that’s the type of experience she valued most during her college years.
“You need to be open to growing and experiencing new things,” she says. “I look at how I was as a freshman and how I am now, and I’m a completely different person in a lot of ways.”
One constant in Sarah’s life during her four years in college was her involvement with the Best Buddies program, which promotes friendship and integration with people with intellectual disabilities.
“Without a doubt, it’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve done. I had the same buddy for four years, and we grew really close. The club sponsors dances, movie nights, and bowling, and we also hung out outside of organized events. I got a lot of joy from it, and I know it brought them a lot of joy as well,” Sarah says.
Sarah’s volunteer work continued to be a large part of her life after graduation. After studying endlessly for the MCATs and waiting to apply to medical school, she spent several days a week volunteering at a local nursing home.
“I absolutely love it,” she says.
Music is one of Sarah’s other passions. A member of the Musician’s Union, Sarah plays acoustic guitar and harmonica and performed at a number of Open Mic nights on campus and in the community.
“One of my favorite things to do was sit on the green and just play on a nice afternoon when I didn’t have classes. It’s really relaxing and helped me unwind,” she says.
Sarah needed all the R&R she could get after her grueling preparation for the MCATs, and while waiting for her scores, she painted, wrote new music, restored an old racing bike and took up piano again.
Though she’s still trying to determine whether to pursue neurology or geriatrics, Sarah is - for the most part - set on a career in medicine, especially after her experiences during a summer internship with the National Institute of Heatlth.
“One of Dr. Kerchner’s former students needed an intern for a clinical research study on acupuncture. It was a lot of data extrapolation, but it showed me what I do and don’t like about the medical field, and it solidified my decision to become a doctor,” says Sarah.
Still, she admits her future plans are still up in the air.
“I’ve heard it changes a lot during med school, but I’m excited to explore all of the options. I miss the togetherness and the sense of community at WAC, but I’m really excited for what’s to come,” Sarah says.
- Majors: Chemistry and Psychology, Premed Track
- Peer Mentor
- President: Best Buddies
- Omicron Delta Kappa
- Cater Society of Junior Fellows, Student Advisory Board
- Vice President: American Chemical Society Student Affiliates
- Musician’s Union
- Active Minds
- James R. Miller ‘51 Award for Excellence in Chemistry
- Jane Huston Goodfellow Memorial Prize
- George Washington Medal and Award
- Outstanding Community Service Honor
- Applying to medical schools
Senior Capstone Experience
The Characterization and Determination of Fluoxetine in Biological Specimens
The neurotransmitter serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), has been implicated in effecting a number of behavioral and psychological processes that occur in humans. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are a class of pharmaceutical drugs that produce therapeutic effects by increasing the transmission of 5-HT. These serotonin reuptake inhibitors are deemed “selective” because of their ability to act on the different 5-HT receptor sites of a neuron. Specifically, SSRIs bind to serotonin transporters to block the reuptake of serotonin in a synapse. Fluoxetine, marketed as Prozac® and Sarafem™, is an SSRI that has been approved by the food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD), dysthymia, bulimia nervosa, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and panic disorder (2009). Specifically, we will be reviewing the effects of fluoxetine on aggressive behavior in the species Oreochromis niloticus, more commonly known as tilapia.
Fluoxetine is an SSRI that blocks 5-HT receptors as opposed to other neurotransmitter receptor sites. The high selectivity of fluoxetine has been attributed to its trifluoromethyl group, which increases both its potency and selectivity. Fluoxetine is a 50/50 racemic drug of both R- and S- enantiomers. It is the goal of this research to characterize fluoxetine, and its metabolite norfluoxetine using proton and fluorine nuclear magnetic resonance as well as ultraviolet (UV) spectroscopy. Initially, standard samples of the drug will be analyzed. Extraction will be used to isolate the free base form of the drug, and to compare the spectra of the free base with that of the ionized drug form. Following this initial analysis, biological samples of tilapia blood serum will be spiked with fluoxetine, in vitro, and analyzed through the use of ultraviolet (UV) spectroscopy, high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), fluorine nuclear magnetic resonance (19F NMR), and proton nuclear magnetic resonance (1H NRM). A calibration curve will be determined, and used as a basis of comparison for in vivo samples of blood serum of tilapia treated with fluoxetine.
Blog: Pieces of Mind
Q & A
Hometown and high school? Hagerstown, MD; North Hagerstown High School.
Favorite class? Psychopharmacology with Dr. Kerchner. It is the perfect integration of two fields I am interested in, psychology and chemistry! You also learn the biological mechanisms responsible for how we think and behave…pretty interesting stuff.
Recommended professor? Dr. Donald McColl for Art History. His passion and enthusiasm is contagious!
Most memorable experience as a first-year student? One night after a hard rain my friends and I decided we were going to go “mud sliding” on the campus green. Covered in trash bags and soap we slid all over the place… and then made sure to use the showers off of our floor.
If you could be a condiment, which one would you be and why? Nutella, because it can make an experience a little sweeter AND it’s a little nutty.
If you had a superpower, what would it be and why? Flying would be really liberating.