Wagner Named 2019 Goldwater Scholar
Bioengineering student Erica Wagner, E’20, earned the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the United States’ premier award for outstanding young researchers in STEM fields.
Source: News @ Northeastern
They are working to cure cancer, treat back pain, and restore biodiversity
They have worked at leading research centers around the world to try to improve the survival rate of patients with gastrointestinal cancers, treat the pain of people with debilitating musculoskeletal diseases, and save endangered species through novel strategies.
Now Gina Duronio, Erica Wagner, and Claire Williams, who study science and engineering at Northeastern, have been rewarded with Goldwater Scholarships to support their pursuit of careers in oncology, drug development, and climate science.
Established by Congress to honor Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Goldwater Scholarship is a highly competitive, merit-based award given to college students who plan to pursue research careers in mathematics, engineering, and the natural sciences.
Erica Wagner is a third-year bioengineering student who is working to improve the lives of people with debilitating musculoskeletal diseases. Her research for the past two-and-a-half years has focused on creating drug delivery systems that target the early onset of inflammation in the intervertebral disc tissue, which causes pain in the lower back.
Wagner has also worked in the lab of bioengineering assistant professor Ambika Bajpayee and completed a co-op at Visterra Inc., where she studied a kidney disease called glomerulonephritis.
“I’m very honored to have been named a scholar,” says Wagner, who plans to earn her doctorate in bioengineering and then work in the drug development industry. “It just felt good that other people can see I have done substantial work in research.”
Technologies and treatments for patients with debilitating musculoskeletal diseases have seen rapid advances in recent years, but are still plagued by complications in drug delivery which can reduce effectiveness or cause unintended effects. Wagner’s goal is to engineer biomaterials for targeted drug delivery systems that can sustain long-lasting effects and minimize off-target activity. She, a member of the Honors Program, has undertaken several projects related to the development of such biomaterials in the Molecular Bioelectrostatics & Drug Delivery Lab of Professor Ambika Bajpayee. With the support of an Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavor Award, Wagner extended the lab’s research on osteoarthritic tissue degeneration from cartilage to the less commonly studied intervertebral disc tissue. On co-op at Visterra Inc., Erica approached research from the perspective of a biotechnology company and worked on glomerulonephritis, the inflammation of the membrane tissue in the kidney which leads to kidney failure. This experience helped confirm her aspiration to work in industry after earning her PhD in bioengineering, continuing her drive for drug development, most likely in coordination with an academic lab.
Clare Williams, a fourth-year student majoring in biochemistry, says that her interest in environmental sustainability took shape in Dublin, Ireland, while she studied how substances extracted from plants can be applied to legumes and grains to limit the negative effect of heat on the crops.
She went on to study the microbiome of honey bees at the Rowland Institute at Harvard and is now exploring the effects of climate change on lizards on co-op in Panama.
She plans to pursue a doctorate in microbiology and conservation. “I’d eventually love to be a professor with a lab at some university and be able to do my own research,” she says.
Gina Duronio, a fourth-year student who is majoring in cell and molecular biology and mathematics, is working on co-op at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where she is studying the role mutated proteins play in colorectal and esophageal cancers.Duronio’s foray into research began at the Lineberger Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina, where she saw how genomic data derived from patients can inform research projects that have real-life impact. She’s also completed a co-op at Visterra Inc., a biotechnology company.
“I’m just really, really excited, and a little bit surprised,” Duronio says about winning a Goldwater Scholarship. “I’ve been working on the application since September, so to finally find out after all those rounds of revisions was really exciting.”
Duronio plans to earn a medical degree and doctorate in molecular biology and specialize in oncology and hematology. She says she’d like to care for patients, conduct research, and study childhood cancer.