Furman Engaged: Biochemistry, Gangnam style
When Elizabeth Gordon ’23 won a Freeman Fellowship, which supports students seeking summer internships in East Asia and Southeast Asia, she had a destination in mind.
“I picked Seoul, South Korea,” said Gordon, a biology major on the biomedical sciences track and avowed K-pop fan.
The aspiring physician assistant worked with CRCC Asia to be paired for an internship with SAIB & Co., a South Korea-based woman-led company founded in 2018 by Jiwon Park to create “female-friendlier” sexual wellness products. (The brand name flips the word “bias,” reflecting the company’s goal of “overturning the gender bias to destigmatize women’s engagement with sexual activity.”)
In June 2022, Gordon traveled to South Korea with a group of fellow CRCC interns and got to work.
Cranberries and chemistry
One of the company’s products is CranProB, a feminine wash containing cranberry extract – which has been observed to have anti-inflammatory effects – and a probiotic called lactobacillus, “a bacteria that helps balance the vaginal microbiome and maintain homeostasis,” Gordon explained.
To bolster its marketing of CranProB, SAIB assigned Gordon and another intern the job of reviewing and compiling research into the effectiveness of cranberries and probiotics.
“They wanted me to find research papers and patents and experiments done to prove that cranberries have these properties,” she said. “I worked nine hours a day five days a week for a month, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Gordon and her colleague would summarize their findings for their English-speaking supervisor (“Her English was 10 times better than my Korean,” Gordon said), who would then translate them into Korean for SAIB’s researcher.
Regarding cranberries and UTIs, Gordon left Seoul with more questions than answers.
“It depends, because everyone is different,” she said. “Purely scientifically, there are chemicals in cranberries that will help with inflammation, but in cosmetics-based medicine they don’t always work because of people’s different vaginal biomes or what they eat or what kind of product they’re in.”
What she learned about those cranberry chemicals intrigued her, however, and when she came back to Furman she had proanthocyanins on her mind.
She decided to expand upon her internship to analyze the research into how proanthocyanidins can help stop UTIs caused by E coli. Gordon will present her meta-analysis on April 14 during Furman Engaged, a day full of events highlighting Furman’s diverse variety of immersive, high-impact engaged learning experiences.
Culture and confidence
Her time in Seoul was about much more than biochemistry, she said.
After work, Gordon would head out with her fellow CRCC interns – many of whom she’s still in touch with – to explore neighborhoods like Gangnam, Insadong and Itaewon, sample Tteok Mandu Guk (dumpling soup with rice cakes) at the food stalls in Gwangjang Market, and tour cultural landmarks like Gyeongbokgung Palace.
“If you rent their traditional clothes, called ‘hanbok,’ you can get into the palace for free,” she said. “We got to choose the colors and the style, and we just walked around and appreciated everything. It was amazing.”
Beyond learning about proanthocyanins and Tteok Mandu Guk, Gordon’s experience in Korea taught her about herself, she said.
“It showed me that no matter where I am, I can still connect with people,” she said. “I never felt more confident being independent before.”
After getting her B.S. degree this spring, Gordon plans to stay in Greenville and work as a medical scribe to accrue the experience hours she needs to apply to a physician assistant program. And she certainly has some travel plans.
“I’m hoping one day I’ll go back to Korea,” she said. “I know there’s never been somewhere I wanted to go back to so badly.”
Furman Engaged and Clearly Furman: The Campaign for Our Third Century
We’re excited to connect the 15th Annual Furman Engaged with our campaign launch to amplify and showcase all that our students work toward during the year, and how deserving they are of our support. Join us for this signature event and others April 13-15 as we feature the best that Furman has to offer. Learn more at furman.edu/campaign.
Furman Engaged: April 14
Furman Campaign Launch Weekend: April 13-15
Director of News and Media Strategy