WSU Graduate Student Showcases Rheumatoid Arthritis Research

The chronic inflammatory disease rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is debilitating.

“RA patients experience pain that can make daily tasks difficult, and almost all RA patients find it difficult to even discuss pain because they feel disconnected from people without the disease,”

says Sabrina Fechtner.

“I chose this research topic because my findings may improve the daily lives of numerous RA patients.”

Sabrina Fechtner is a graduate student in the pharmaceutical sciences Ph.D. program at Washington State University in Spokane. Under the mentorship of Pharmaceutical Sciences Associate Professor Salah-Uddin Ahmed, Fechtner is looking to understand how protein-induced inflammation can be influenced through the endocannabinoid system by using a synthetic compound as a signaling agent.

“If successful, this research will provide the foundational knowledge for a potential novel pain-management therapy treatment option,” Fechtner said. “The next step is to validate my findings in an animal model of arthritis. I will be looking for improvements in swelling, mobility and sensitivity.”

While this is a step forward, the path to turning this foundational science into a therapeutic option for patients has a long road ahead, including clinical testing and FDA approval.

Excellence in her work so far has landed Fechtner a Medical and Graduate Student Preceptorship Award from the Rheumatology Research Foundation, one of the largest charitable organization in the US dedicated to advancing treatment for patients living with rheumatic disease. This award includes a stipend of $4,000 over the next year to continue her research and a $1,000 travel grant to attend and present her work at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) annual meeting in San Diego, California.

“By attending the ACR conference, I was able to share my work with the scientific community and receive useful feedback from other researchers in academia and industry from all around the world. In addition, I learned about other rheumatic diseases, like osteoarthritis, gout, and systemic sclerosis, where the endocannabinoid system may also play a role,”

Fechtner said.

Fechtner is from Denver, Colorado, and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Colorado at Boulder with bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology.

“I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. related to health sciences research,” she said, which is what brought her to the WSU College of Pharmacy in Spokane. Fechtner is part of the first class of Ph.D. students to be admitted into the pharmaceutical sciences graduate program when it moved to Spokane with the consolidation of the college in 2013.

“Not many people can say they were one of the first Ph.D. students here, which I have to admit is pretty cool. Besides that, the whole health science campus itself is a new addition to Spokane. Local residents are pretty excited about the new campus because it provides new infrastructure, brings in cultural diversity, and creates opportunities for students to give back to the community,”

Fechtner said.

After graduation, she plans to continue research within the broader field of autoimmunity in her post-doctoral training. Her goal is to be an independent investigator, leading a team of researchers to characterize inflammatory signaling pathways and explore novel therapeutic options for autoimmune diseases.

“None of this would be possible without the support that I have received here at WSU, including the staff in the graduate office and grant office,” Fechtner said. “I would like extend a special thank you to my colleagues of the Ahmed lab (Dr. Singh, Dr. Kim, Kelly, Solomon, and Mahamudul) for their continuous support, and finally Dr. Ahmed for his mentorship and guidance.”

[Lori J. Maricle] 12/01/17