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Madison Ricco

P4’S Research Lands her National Fellowship and Faculty Admiration

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Written by Jordan Kellerman on January 10, 2022

For P4 Madison Ricco, pharmaceutical research has been a passion of hers as long as she can remember. As an undergrad, she led research projects at her institution. As a P1, she enrolled in the honors program for a research-intensive experience. And, as a P2, she enrolled in the Master of Science (MS) in Pharmaceutical Sciences degree; the first student to ever attempt both programs congruently.

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P4 Madison Ricco talks with Dr. Tom Anchordoquy in his lab. The two have worked together on "chemo-therapy," studying milk exosomes.

Ricco was committed to taking every opportunity to develop her research interests. It would take such dogged commitment to convince her now-mentor to take her on as a student researcher. Many faculty researchers are hesitant to take on a PharmD student in their labs, and understandably so. The demanding Doctor of Pharmacy degree leaves precious little time to dedicate to a serious lab-based research project. Dr. Tom Anchordoquy was skeptical of such a young student taking on such a workload.

“I tried to tell Madison this when she approached me as a P1, but she simply changed my mind,” he said. “She convinced me that she was passionate about the opportunity to do research and that she was committed for the long term. I could not refute her.”

According to Anchordoquy, it was a decision he would not regret. “I gave her a chance and she has proven to be far and away the most dedicated pharmacy student I have ever had.”

Ricco’s commitment not only opened the door to Anchordoquy’s lab, but it also paved the way for a prestigious national research award. Dr. Anchordoquy recommended she apply for a Gateway to Research Award offered by the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education. This past summer, Ricco received the prestigious award along with a $5,000 stipend to support her research.

“I knew I wanted to do research,” Ricco said, “But the clinical side is so important. I’m looking at step zero, the patient, to identify what needs to be researched.”

And just what patient-centered research has earned her national recognition? The technical term is milk exosomes for drug delivery, but some call it chemoo-therapy. The goal being that someday a patient could ingest chemotherapy carried by cow’s milk at home, as opposed to the current practice of being delivered through an IV in a clinic.

Ricco’s research project started with the observation that mammalian mothers use exosomes in their milk to transfer large molecules (e.g., antibodies) from their baby’s gut into the blood. A mother’s milk helps the baby resist infection by giving the baby antibodies, which help the immune system to recognize and respond aggressively to certain types of infections. And, importantly, these antibodies contained in milk are not degraded by the digestive system. Instead, after they are ingested, they make their way intact into the bloodstream. Because bovine antibodies cross-react with the human Fc receptor, cow exosomes can be used to transport therapeutic molecules from a patient’s gut to their blood. This potentially would enable a variety of molecules (chemotherapeutics, peptides, RNA) to be administered orally instead of via IV infusion. Essentially, patients could drink their chemotherapy.

“I knew I wanted to do research,” Ricco said, “But the clinical side is so important. I’m looking at step zero, the patient, to identify what needs to be researched.”


The Gateway Award is for pharmacy students who show a strong interest in pursuing research and the award stipend is funding Ricco’s drug delivery research through Summer 2022.

“Madison has worked in my lab consistently for over three years, and she is now doing a research rotation,” Anchordoquy said. “Because she spent the past three years learning all the techniques and developing protocols, she is very productive, and I suspect that the work from her six-week rotation will form the basis of a publication.”

“Going into pharmacy school, I always knew I wanted to research,” Ricco said. “I went to pharmacy school with the intention of applying my clinical knowledge to research.”

Perhaps some day in the future, a cancer patient will have Ricco’s work to thank for finding a way to make their chemotherapy regiment easier to digest. For now, she is focusing on her research rotation, her Master’s degree, and plans to graduate with her PharmD in May 2022. She plans to finish her MS by Spring 2023; the extra time allows her to continue to research and finalize her milk exosomes findings funded by the Gateway Award. After graduation with both her PharmD and MS, Ricco is looking forward to exploring all options available to her. With her resume, the possibilities are endless.