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 afterschool 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.”