Beating cancer, one nanoparticle at a time

Small wonder that Sean Burns, E’13, spends 10 hours a day in a med­ical oncology lab­o­ra­tory at the Dana-​​Farber Cancer Insti­tute, devel­oping and improving nanopar­ticle screening methods for testing the effec­tive­ness of poten­tial drugs on many forms of cancer: His mom is a nurse and sev­eral of his family mem­bers have bat­tled the disease.

“Cancer is some­thing that has inter­ested me throughout my life,” said Burns, a fifth-​​year chem­ical engi­neering major who plans to attend med­ical school next fall. “Even though there are so many treat­ments, inci­dence and mor­tality are on the rise.”

Burns is one of more than a dozen under­grad­uate stu­dents from across the country par­tic­i­pating in the Steam­boat Foundation’s 10-​​​​week Summer Scholars Pro­gram. He received $10,000 from the foun­da­tion, which sup­ports stu­dents who show poten­tial for becoming leaders in their chosen field.

Every year, one stu­dent is selected from each of the foundation’s partner uni­ver­si­ties to com­plete an intern­ship with one of the foundation’s grant part­ners, in fields ranging from health care to hospitality.

Designing com­pounds on co-​​op with Mil­len­nium Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, a Cam­bridge, Mass.-based bio­phar­ma­ceu­tical com­pany, pre­pared Burns for his new role at Dana-​​Farber. He cre­ated more than 100 mol­e­cules over two six-​​month experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­ni­ties with the company.

“I was doing cutting-​​edge chem­istry with new reagents and new chem­i­cals that sci­en­tists have just begun using in this decade,” he said. “I’m going to use that knowl­edge to more effec­tively design dyes for screening assays at Dana-​​Farber.”

The under­grad­uate student-​​researcher said he quickly became an inte­gral part of the team. “Mil­len­nium did a great job of engaging me,” he explained. “I felt like I belonged there and that I was making an impor­tant contribution.”

Burns — an Avon, Conn., native who enjoys cooking, snow­boarding and playing guitar — prefers to spend his free time helping others. As a Civic Engage­ment Pro­gram scholar, he has vol­un­teered at Brigham & Women’s Hos­pital and spent more than 400 hours tutoring local high-​​school stu­dents at Squash­Busters, an after​​school urban youth devel­op­ment pro­gram on the North­eastern campus. Last year, he helped two high-​​school seniors apply to college.

“Two of the biggest rea­sons I chose to attend North­eastern were its co-​​op pro­gram and the Civic Engage­ment Pro­gram,” Burns said. “It sounded like the per­fect place to be and I couldn’t be happier.”


Related Departments:Chemical Engineering