Bone-a fide research methods

Ilene Rosenblum

Shawn Anthony has spent the past four years contributing to cutting-edge medical research by examining bone regeneration and Alzheimer’s disease. But Prof. Samuel Stupp isn’t only impressed with the McCormick sophomore’s scientific ability.

“I can see him coming into the lab at midnight to see if the cells are OK,” said Stupp, a chemistry, materials science and engineering, and medicine professor who oversees some of Anthony’s research. “He is completely committed.”

Anthony’s dedication helped him become one of this year’s 300 Goldwater Scholarship winners. The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship pays for tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 annually for math, natural science and engineering students.

Two other Northwestern students also received the scholarship: Weinberg sophomores Silpa Patel and Wenhao Liu. Anthony and more than 50 other fellowship winners will be honored at a dinner Monday.

Sara Vaux, director of NU’s Office of Fellowships, said it is exemplary when a second-year student is able to win a Goldwater because they have to compete with third-year students who have more research experience. She said Anthony’s passion for his research makes him stand out.

“He has unlimited potential … to make groundbreaking work in this field,” Vaux said.

Anthony began doing research with Stupp last spring and is helping to develop an injectable material that would assist bone regeneration after a fracture. Anthony, originally from Pittsburgh, is the only undergraduate student on the four-member research team. He is majoring in biomedical engineering and is in the Honors Program in Medical Education.

The members of the research team are engineering types of organic molecules that form a gel when mixed with a calcium solution. When viewed on the nanoscale, the fibers have the same features as bone, Stupp said. The self-assembling material mimics natural bone formation.

“The nanofiber gel would serve as a three-dimensional scaffold for bone cells to grow and produce bone,” Anthony said.

The material also is biocompatible and biodegradable, a great advantage over traditional orthopedic implants, Anthony said. The material can be used as a bone-defect filler that could treat osteoporosis, congenital bone and tooth defects and spinal defects.

Anthony said the methods the team uses combine chemistry and material science.

“It’s really an interdisciplinary approach,” Anthony said.

In addition to researching 10 hours a week during the school year, Anthony serves as the information technology director for NU’s Biomedical Engineering Society and is a senator for the NU Engineering Student Council.

His past three summer have been devoted to research. In 2001, he worked with researchers at Brown Medical School and wrote a paper on Alzheimer’s disease accepted for publication in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Anthony’s mother, Joyce Anthony, said her son views the scholarship as a validation of his hard work.

“He gets a lot of satisfaction from his research,” she said. “He packs as much as he can into every day.”