Past Beckman Scholars
The 2014 Beckman Scholars will graduate in May 2016.
Advisor: Dr. Joyce Wong, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Project Title: Biomaterial Scaffolds for Nerve RepairOne of the most rapidly expanding areas of biomedical research is regenerative medicine and biomaterials. Biomaterials can be both naturally derived and artificially created, and have a variety of uses, one of them being the scaffolding of bioengineered tissues. Scaffolding biomaterials, which provide the framework for regenerating tissue, will be a focus of this project. The natural polymer, silk, will be looked at in particular depth. Silk has a variety of applications in biomedical research due to its highly desirable properties such as its high tensile strength as well as its biocompatible and biodegradable properties. The silk will be created using microfluidics technology. This highly controlled process most closely mimics natural silk spinning and appropriately replicates the key structural attributes of native silk. The silk will be analyzed using both experimental and computational approaches; a combination which allows for a higher control over the properties and functionality of the biomaterial produced. Among the vast applications of silk, the area this project will focus on is its use in scaffolding for nerve repair and regeneration. Previously, nerve repair has been studied using autograft techniques, which utilizes other tissues taken from the patient’s own body as a scaffold. However, it has been seen that there are considerable benefits to using artificial nerve guide conduits (NGCs) for the purpose of nerve regeneration after an injury. Finding an appropriate biomaterial for artificial NGCs is difficult due to the need for them to be flexible, yet strong enough to resist compression, as well as ideally biodegradable. Silk’s strength and biological properties make it a promising choice as an artificial NGC. In the long-term, this project can have a lasting impact on the treatment of central nervous system injuries, including the potential to restore motor function by allowing for the reestablishment of lost neural connections.
Advisor: Dr. Adrian Whitty, Department of Chemistry
Project Title: Quantitative Investigation of RET Activation and SignalingDespite decades of research on the activation and signaling of growth factor (GF) receptors, our current understanding of these processes remains largely qualitative. Our goal is to advance our quantitative, mechanistic understanding of how GF receptors mediate the ability of cells to sense and respond to their environment with RET as our investigational system. RET is a receptor tyrosine kinase that mediates the response of certain neuronal cells to a family of growth factors comprising GDNF, neurturin, artemin and persephin. Previously we have used conventional biochemical and cell biological assay methods to characterize RET activation and signaling. However, to advance our research program we need access to more sophisticated methods, especially those that enable single cell measurements by microscopy and/or flow cytometry. An initial goal will be to create two different types of engineered cell lines, to serve as quantitative reporters of early and late events in RET signaling, and to use them to address questions concerning how activation of RET by artemin is quantitatively coupled to gene transcription. One goal will be to develop a cell line in which RET is fused to mutant forms of green fluorescent protein, known as mCer and mYPet, designed to give an optical signal when two RET molecules interact on the cell membrane, using the method of Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET). A second goal will be to generate a luciferase reporter gene cell line to provide a convenient and quantitative read-out of RET-dependent activation of gene transcription. Assuming at least one of these cell line engineering efforts is successful, we will then move on to use the newly developed tool to address fundamental questions concerning quantitative aspects of RET activation and signaling.
The 2013 Beckman Scholars graduated in May 2015.
Advisor: Professor Thomas D. Gilmore, Biology Department
Project Title: Genetic Modification of the Starlet Sea Anemone, Nematostella vectensisA key scientific advance for understanding basic biological processes has been the ability to genetically alter model organisms, such as nematodes, fruit flies, and mice. The phylum Cnidaria includes approximately 10,000, mostly marine, basal organisms, including several that are of commercial importance or are under environmental insult, esp. corals. An emerging model organism for animals in this phylum (corals, anemones, jellyfish, hydra) is the starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. This anemone is convenient because it is small, can be collected from natural estuarine sites, is easily maintained in the lab, has extensive regenerative properties, and has a complete genome sequence and extensive RNA expression data. Nevertheless, molecular genetic approaches to modify gene function are limited in this animal. Thus, a major goal of this project is to develop additional and improved methods for altering and introducing gene function in Nematostella. These techniques will then be used to study signaling pathways (e.g., the NF-κB pathway) and biological functions, and perhaps to develop biosensor or decorative animals. For example, one long-term goal may include developing transgenic N. vectensis as biological sensors for environmental factors such as pH, temperature, and salinity.Audrey graduated in Biology from BU in May 2015, and will be entering a combined MPH/MSW program at the Boston University School of Medicine in Fall 2015.
Advisor: Dr. Francisco J. Naya, Department of Biology
Project Title: Mapping Transcriptional Enhancers of Mef2a in Skeletal Muscle Differentiation and RegenerationThere are currently no effective treatments for the various forms of muscular dystrophy. The main form of ‘treatment’ consists mainly of aiding patients in controlling the symptoms that accompany their disease. A promising approach in the treatment of muscular disorders involves repairing or replacing diseased muscle with healthy muscle by means of regeneration. Skeletal muscle is one of the few mammalian tissues that has the capacity to regenerate, with new cells arising from muscle stem cells residing in proximity to mature muscle fibers. While many molecular pathways have been identified that regulate muscle regeneration, our understanding of this process is far from complete. Recently, it has been found that transcription factor MEF2A is a key player in the regulation of skeletal muscle regeneration after injury. Given the importance of MEF2A in muscle regenerations, it is essential to understand the mechanisms by which MEF2A is itself regulated because such information will provide insight into the molecular control of muscle regeneration. Specifically, we propose to investigate the transcriptional regulation of the Mef2a gene since its expression is modulated in skeletal muscle regeneration. Our goal is to identify transcriptional enhancers of Mef2a by performing deletion mutagenesis of the proximal promoter and analyzing the activity of these sequences using reporter assays. Various promoter deletions will be analyzed both in vitro in an established muscle cell line and in vivo using a muscle regeneration model in mice. The minimal cis-acting DNA sequences will then be used to identify upstream transcriptional regulators and signaling pathways that control the expression of Mef2a. Overall, these studies will enable us to develop a more complete understanding of the pathways employed in skeletal muscle regeneration, which may have therapeutic relevance for human muscle degenerative diseases.Sarah graduated in Biology from BU in May 2015, and will be entering an MD program at the Boston University School of Medicine in Fall 2015.
The 2012 Beckman Scholars graduated in May 2014.
| Alex Valentine, a Biomedical Engineering major, is working with Dr. Joyce Wong in the Biomedical Engineering Department on the development of a drug delivery technique for the treatment of allergic asthma and atopy. The project seeks to develop an ultrasound-facilitated transdermal antibody delivery method that can be validated in mouse models. This project has potential medical implications in that the specific antibody being used has shown therapeutic benefits for over half of asthma patients who have a particular allergen imbalance.
Alex is currently performing research at Harvard Medical School
|Zach Ariki, a Chemistry major, is doing research in the laboratory of Dr. John Porco (Chemistry). The general area of his research is the organic synthesis of natural product-based compounds that may have medical benefits. Specifically, Zach is investigating the synthesis of a class of compounds called microsphaerins, which have been demonstrated to have antimicrobial activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is now a common hospital pathogen for which there are limited therapeutic options. Thus, the development of methods to synthesize microsphaerins could have important benefits for the treatment of patients with MRSA.Zach is currently performing research at the Institute of Transformative Biomolecules in Nagoya, Japan.
The 2011 Beckman Scholars graduated in May 2013.
|Claire Schenkel, who double majored in Biology (Specialization in Cell Biology,Molecular Biolgy & Genetics) and Speech, Language & Hearing Science, performed research with Dr. Kim McCall (Biology). Claire research focussed on the role of programmed cell death in the ovary using the model organism the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster. This work has relevance to understanding reproductive physiology, development and certain disease processes.
Claire is currently a PhD student in a joint MIT/Harvard Program in Speech & Hearing Science Bioscience and Technology.
|Rishikesh Kulkarni majored in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and performed research with Dr. Sean Elliott in the Chemistry Department. His research conducted biochemical research to understand the role of iron-sulfur clusters in a novel class of proteins called CDGSH proteins. Using computational protein similarity network analysis, Rishi sought to understand the functional and evolutionary relationship between this new class of proteins, some of which appear to play a role in human diabetes.
Rishi is currently a PhD student in Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.
The 2010 Beckman Scholars graduated in May 2012.
| Colleen Drapek, a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology major,
performed research with Dr. Frank Naya (Biology) on the
characterization of the regulatory mechanism of the transcription
factor MEF2A by the gene BMP2. This work will have relevance
to our understanding of cardiovascular development and disease.
Colleen is currently a PhD student in Biomedical Sciences at
Angela Xie, a Biomedical Engineering major, performed research with Dr. Joyce Wong (Biomedical Engineering) on characterizing the mechanical properties of mesenchymal stem cell sheets for tissue engineered vascular patches. This work will have applicability to the development of artificial tissues, such as blood vessels.
Angie is currently a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The 2009 Beckman Scholars graduated in May 2011.
|Meredith Duffy, a Biomedical Engineering major, performed research with Dr. Joyce Wong (Biomedical Engineering) and is using tissue engineering approaches to develop a small-diameter artery replacement by combining cell sheet engineering with microtexturing techniques. Meredith is currently in a PhD program in Biomedical Engineering at Harvard University.
|Arthur Su, a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology major, performed research with Dr. John Porco (Chemistry) on the organic synthesis of natural product derivatives that may have anti-bacterial and anti-cancer cell growth properties. Arthur is currently a research technician at Harvard Medical School, working on immunology.
The 2008 Beckman Scholars graduated in May 2010.
|Florencia Rago, a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology major, performed research with Dr. Dean Tolan (Biology) on enzyme protein structure and function. Florencia graduated from BU in May, 2010, and she received a PhD in Biology at MIT in Spring 2015. She is currently performing postdoctoral research at Novartis Pharmaceuticals.
|Tyler Ford, who was a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, worked with Dr. Tom Gilmore (Biology) performing research on the molecular basis of lymphoma. Tyler graduated from in May, 2010, and received his PhD in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Harvard Medical School in the spring of 2015.
The previous Beckman Program Award supported six students.
The 2006 Beckman Scholars performed research in the Biology Department with Dr. Tom Gilmore (Melissa Chin, currently a research technician at the Broad Institute, Cambridge, MA), Dr. Dean Tolan (Michael Coyle, received his PhD in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley 2013, and currently a Scientist at Amunix in Mountain View, CA) and Dr. William Eldred (James Flannery, currently President of American Relight (an LED refit company for commercial buildings in San Diego, CA). These scholars graduated in May of 2008.
The 2005 Beckman Scholars were Beth Cimini, who is attending graduate school at the University of California, San Francisco; Daniel Bruggemeyer, who received his Masters in Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently in law school at the University of California, Berkeley; and Roy Arjoon, who is completing his studies at the Boston University School of Medicine. These scholars graduated in May, 2007.