SURF 2023: Meet the Interns

Sofia Gonzalez Researches Safer Pain Medications

Interview conducted by Sanjana Gupta, 2023 Kenan communications intern, on June 21, 2023.

Aspiring researchers can launch science careers with the help of The Wertheim UF Scripps Institute’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (SURF) program. The program’s focus is to provide these emerging researchers with exposure to top-tier resources, along with scientific experiences that can open doors to a high-impact career. Rising undergraduate senior Sofia Gonzalez studies chemistry at the University of South Florida. She decided to jump-start her career in research by participating in the SURF program at The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology.

Q: You are working with Professor Laura Bohn, Ph.D., on the effect of potential medicines on the protein β-arrestin-2, which is involved in the opioid signaling process. How could this help the quest for safer pain medications?

A: I’m currently studying the effects of different drug-like compounds on a protein called β-arrestin-2 and its interaction with a specific receptor in the human brain called the kappa opioid receptor. When we take certain medications, these receptors in our brain can attract more β-arrestin-2 proteins, which can lead to negative side effects of opioid drugs. In my project, I’ll be comparing how much β-arrestin-2 binds to the receptor depending on the compounds I use to treat the cells. This will help us understand how the compounds affect the interaction between the protein and the receptor, giving us important information about how they might work in our bodies. By studying how potential medicines affect the opioid receptors and their interactions with β-arrestins, we can learn valuable information about how effective, sensitive, and powerful these medications are. The goal of our research is to learn as much as we can about these neuroreceptors and find ways to create better pain-relieving treatments that have equal or better results with little to no side effects.

Q: Why is this research important to you?

A: I have lived my whole life in Miami, where, unfortunately, there is a lot of opioid abuse, overdose and public health issues that would really benefit from discovering a medication that could ease pain without risk of addiction or trauma.

Q: Previously, you worked as an undergraduate research assistant at The University of South Florida. Coming into the SURF program here at The Wertheim UF Scripps Institute, do you find your definition of science and your goals for research changing?

A: It has shown me that though I have a background in biochemistry, and I spend my days studying chemicals and proteins, I can apply that knowledge to research that could truly make a difference in scientific development. There is endless opportunity in research and no project is ever too small to make an impact. I am already gaining and hope to continue gaining experience and practice in the lab with different techniques, equipment, and skill sets. But also, gaining connections, advice, and guidance from all the mentors, leaders, and friends that I have met here. As far as my goals go, I am going to try my best to put together a great poster presentation for the end of summer SURF symposium and hope to find results that will support the rest of the Bohn lab. I also just want to learn as much as I can about the field of my project, the life of those in research and how I see my future-self fitting into all of it.