UNESCO Program Selects LMU Student to Lead Team Studying COVID-19

When something interests Lianlen Joy Go Distor, she calls it “sparkly.” And when the Loyola Marymount University junior learned she had been chosen out of a pool of more than 6,000 applicants from 128 countries to be part of UNESCO’s Youth As Researchers global initiative on COVID-19, she knew this was an opportunity too sparkly to pass up.

An international student from the Philippines majoring in biochemistry and minoring in biology, already had a full plate of extracurricular responsibilities. These include her role as co-vice president of the LMU Minority Association of Premedical Students; as part of a type 2 diabetes research team in the laboratory of David Moffet, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; as a teaching assistant and tutor for three math class sections; and as a member of the University Honors Program.

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Distor at Stanford Clinical Internship

The UNESCO initiative seeks to connect and engage participants in studying the impacts of COVID-19 on youth and the responses to these challenges. Distor was chosen to lead North America Team 2 (Team Interstellar), which is charged with designing and conducting research on how the pandemic has affected young people in any of several ways, including well-being, learning, use of technology, human rights, and youth action.

“This was an opportunity to do research with the potential to have a global impact,” Distor says. “I was ecstatic to learn I had been chosen, and after I consulted with my advisers I decided that even though my plate was filled to the brim, this was something I had to do.”

Distor’s love of research dates back to her childhood in the Philippines. At age six she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, requiring years of treatment and fueling her interest in investigative pursuits. She attended the Southern Mindanao Campus of the Philippine Science High School System, a prestigious institution aiming to prepare globally competitive Filipino scientists. While there, she presented research findings at global conferences in Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines, and earned a patent in the Philippines for her role in a study identifying an alternative to existing antibacterial agents. Since arriving at LMU, Distor has earned two research grants in addition to the UNESCO research opportunity — an Honors Research Fellowship and the RAINS Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

After graduation, Distor hopes to enroll in medical school and potentially pursue both a medical degree and a Ph.D., which would position her to translate laboratory findings into improved patient care. “Learning new knowledge through research is really sparkly for me,” she says. “I am thankful for all of the opportunities LMU is giving me to do that.”