Megan Yardley was too young to fully understand when her father accepted that he was an alcoholic and entered recovery, but his struggle for sobriety was hardly a secret in the Yardley household.
“He was open about it. In a lot of ways, he is who he is because of that experience,” Megan Yardley said. “He came out the other side. A lot of people don’t.”
Flash forward two decades, and Megan Yardley is a second-year doctoral candidate in molecular pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Like all higher-education students majoring in scientific disciplines, much of her time these days is spent on research. And like most students, Yardley found a topic for her research that meant something to her.
The 23-year-old joined a group of researchers at USC who wanted to test the effects of a drug, Ivermectin, on alcohol consumption. The drug is an anti-parasitic medication that already has been FDA-approved to treat a specific bloodworm and an affliction known as riverblindness, but Yardley and her colleagues believe it can block receptors that create the urge to drink.
Her research, titled “Preclinical Assessment of Ivermectin in Reducing Alcohol Consumption,” recently won a first prize at the ninth annual Multidisciplinary Scientific Symposium. To most people, that means nothing. For a doctoral student in California hoping to carve out a career in a specific field, it means a great deal.
Yardley said the symposium was open to students conducting all types of research, and this year’s event featured a number of prominent immunologists, including Dr. Kary Willis, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
“It was a really cool way to get a feel for what other researchers are doing,” Yardley said in a phone interview from California. “And I won an iPad.”
As luck would have it, her dad — Bangor health and community services director Shawn Yardley — was in the Golden State for the symposium.
“I was actually there to return her dog,” the father said. “So, I see her up there with all these doctors and immunologists. I didn’t understand half of it, but it was pretty neat to see her in that role.”
Shawn Yardley already knew what her research was about.
“The first thing I said when she told me was, ‘Oh, you must be trying to figure out your father,’” he said. “But she always attended anniversaries of my sobriety; she always understood. I think now she has a bigger understanding of the science behind [alcoholism].”
Megan Yardley said she’s excited about the research, mostly because it has a good chance of helping people. Currently, she’s been testing the effects of the drug on laboratory mice, but she hopes to move it to a clinical trial soon.
“This would be really promising if it can reduce alcohol intake in humans,” she said. “The drug already has a good safety profile, it’s already been approved and there are no serious side effects with the current dosing.”
Her dad said he still smiles every time he thinks of his “little girl” working in a lab injecting mice with a tiny needle.
Megan Yardley graduated from Bangor High School in 2005 and did her undergraduate work at Stonehill College in Massachusetts before moving west. When she’s not wearing a lab coat or buried in textbooks, Yardley works security for high-profile concerts and events.
Her dad said she recently got to meet television star Tina Fey backstage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Hollywood. She also will be an extra in the soon-to-be released movie “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt.
With all her success on the West Coast, does she ever plan to move back East?
“I really like it out here. It’s a different way of life,” she said. “I guess it all depends on jobs. There are a log of good opportunities on the East Coast, in Massachusetts and Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“Even Maine has Jackson Laboratory, so who knows.”