Volk (PharmD ’20) expands infectious disease expertise in the School’s Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research Division
By Aarti Gupta
When Cecilia Volk (PharmD ’20) first started pharmacy school at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, she wasn’t quite sure what career she wanted to pursue. That’s when she found an opportunity to work with Warren Rose — associate professor in the School’s Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research Division and renowned infectious disease researcher — and quickly discovered her passion.
“Infectious disease is a cool area because it’s always changing,” says Volk. “The bacteria that we’re dealing with, the drugs, and the resistance are always changing. The research possibilities are never-ending.”
Now, Volk’s professional journey is coming full circle: She’s joining the School’s Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research Division as an assistant professor.
“We are so excited to have Cecilia as a new faculty member,” says Beth Martin (BS ‘90, MS ‘03, PhD ‘06), chair of the Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research Division. “She brings incredible research skills as a pharmacist scientist, along with connections to a diverse group of collaborators. Her enthusiasm to work with students in the classroom and in her research lab as a role model and mentor will be an asset to the School.”
Becoming an infectious disease researcher
Volk completed her undergraduate education at Northwestern Michigan University prior to coming to UW–Madison for pharmacy school.
“I’m from the Milwaukee area and wanted to be close to home. I also knew I wanted to have the opportunity to get involved with a research program,” says Volk. “I remember looking through some of the UW faculty and being excited by the research going on here and the resources that would be available through the greater UW campus.”
“The bacteria that we’re dealing with, the drugs, and the resistance are always changing. The research possibilities are never-ending.”
After finding her way to the Rose Lab as a PharmD student, Volk was given the unique opportunity to collaborate with researchers at the University of California San Diego who had serum samples from a clinical trial. Working with them, she was able to analyze the samples for markers of immune response to research infectious outcomes with different patient treatments, specifically looking at effects of beta-lactam antibiotics on treatment of Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia. For this work, she earned a Distinguished Trainee Award from the American College of Clinical Pharmacy and was invited to present a poster at the 2018 Global Conference on Clinical Pharmacy.
“Cecilia is very innovative,” says Rose. “She thinks outside the box, and she’s able to figure out ways to solve problems and work with others in order to find solutions.”
After earning her PharmD, Volk completed her PGY-1 residency at Rush University Medical Center, and then returned to the School in 2021 for fellowship training with Rose.
Volk had established her passion for research by this time and chose to pursue a fellowship with Rose to get hands-on research training experience. During her fellowship, Volk’s research with Rose largely focused on the role of the host immune system in infection clearance and immune cell culture techniques. They aimed to explore antibiotic resistance and tried to find ways to either prevent resistance or overcome it through novel treatment regimens.
“We did a lot of modeling — such as pharmacokinetic modeling — to look at different dosing regimens or combination therapies,” Volk shares. “We also did modeling involving host immune cells, so we used macrophage cultures to assess the role of the host immune system in infection clearance and evaluate how to attack infections from another angle.”
During her time as a fellow, Volk also taught a handful of infectious disease lectures, and she is now transitioning into a more permanent position at the School, leading both pharmacotherapy and infectious disease courses.
As her two-year fellowship wound down, Volk found herself looking for new opportunities, and one presented itself at the School.
“It’s very exciting to me that I get to keep building on the collaborative relationships that I started as a fellow or even as a student,” says Volk. “I’ve been pretty spoiled so far in my research training, because UW has an expert or resources available in anything I could ever want to learn or study, so I’m excited to keep taking advantage of everything UW has to offer.”
Advancing research and education at UW
As Volk begins her teaching responsibilities, which will include many of the same courses she taught as a fellow, she plans to continue conducting her research as she expands into the lab next door to Rose’s and begins to recruit students of her own.
“Recently, I started working on a zebrafish embryo model as a way to observe the immune response of zebrafish to various infections — oddly, these fish have similar immune systems to humans, so we’re also researching how to treat those infections within the zebrafish model,” Volk says.
While she is excited to continue her research, Volk is also eager to begin her career in teaching. She credits her time at the School for solidifying her interest in becoming a professor and is excited to have found a job at the place where it all started.
“I’ve always liked teaching and coaching, but I didn’t think it would ever be part of my career until I realized the job that my professors in pharmacy school had,” she says. “I liked how they were able to balance teaching, researching, and practice, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to teach.”
As she begins the semester, Volk is particularly excited to build relationships with current PharmD students as they embark on their career journey.
“I enjoy being a resource — someone the students can reach out to for advice,” she says. “It’s going to be nice to facilitate building those relationships with the students, especially because I’m working with smaller class sizes by leading lab groups and discussions.”
“It feels like it’s been a long road filled with lots of training, school, residency, and fellowship work, and this was the end goal. We’re finally here.”
After years of studying and research, Volk is excited to begin to plot her own research path.
“It feels like it’s been a long road filled with lots of training, school, residency, and fellowship work, and this was the end goal. We’re finally here,” she says. “I’m excited to be starting this more permanent chapter.”