Karen VanderMolen, Class of 2014

Posted on July 23, 2015

I was attracted to UNCG for two reasons, partly because of the location: in beautiful North Carolina and close to home.  The other aspect of my choice, which was non-negotiable, was the chance to work with some of the big names in natural products.

What I enjoyed most about being in the UNCG Medicinal Biochemistry PhD program was that there was a lot of collaboration, even between seemingly unrelated labs. I got to work with pharmacologists, mycologists, botanists, and synthetic chemists. My dissertation was primarily analytical (quantitative), with some isolation and structure elucidation, but I also got to grow fungi and run cell-based assays. Working on multiple aspects of a project was helpful in seeing the “big picture.”

Currently, I work as a toxicologist, and determine safe human use for ingredients in dietary supplements. I make sure there’s evidence of safety for oral exposure of any raw material that goes into New Chapter products. Doing this involves a lot of literature research, but when there are gaps it also means getting in silico assessments from other experts, collaborating with P&G’s Trace Analytical team to get qualitative and quantitative analyses of a raw material, or contracting out in vitro/in vivo studies and interpreting the data. I’m also a member of P&G’s Botanical Expert Team, which helps guide and define the safety assessment of botanicals.

The training I received in analytical chemistry and drug discovery of natural products have really helped me in my current position. My experience with natural products and their inherent complexity accelerated my learning curve at P&G. Many toxicologists are used to dealing with one chemical at a time. They also tend to come from a pharmacological background, so my analytical chemistry gives me a different perspective on the compositional data of our ingredients. It allows me to work very closely with the chemists, and offer unique insights to botanical safety assessments.

BS, Chemistry, Davidson College
PhD, University of North Carolina Greensboro
Product Safety Scientist, New Chapter Inc/Procter and Gamble