Three undergraduates awarded Beckman scholarships for biological research

Foundation grant provides $120,000 over three years for University students

Second-year Catherine Henry, third-year Christopher Waters and second-year Rachel Stadler, all Engineering students, were selected this week to receive Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation scholarships.

Last year, the University was awarded the Beckman Scholars Award, which provides $120,000 of grant money to be spent in three years to fund scholarships for undergraduate student research in the chemistry, biology, biochemistry and medical fields.

Selected students receive $19,300 to be used during two summers and one academic year.

Henry will focus her efforts on researching Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease in which muscles become rapidly weaker, and its affect on the diaphragm — the body’s main respiration muscle. She is studying the relationship in mice with healthy diaphragms and mice with diseased diaphragms.

“Diaphragms are critical in respiration,” she said. “The reason why it is so critical in Duchenne muscular dystrophy is because the heart and the diaphragm are the most used muscles in your body, which is why they fibrose and stop working first because they are used so much.”

The research money will allow Henry to stay in Charlottesville during the summer and continue her research.

Waters is researching the response of islets — clusters of cells that work together to maintain blood sugar — in people with diabetes.

“The purpose of our research is to find ways to treat the diabetic islets so they respond more appropriately in normal glucose concentrations, as opposed to hypoglycemic levels,” he said.

Waters said he is excited to have the research money, planning to use it to run more experiments this summer and hoping to better help people with diabetes.

“When I was younger, my best friend had Type I diabetes, and it caused him a lot of medical problems and even led to depression,” he said. “That’s what really inspired me to want to do diabetes research in the first place.”

Stadler will research the infectious protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the disease toxoplasmosis. It can be transmitted through food-borne illnesses and is also linked through malaria.

She hopes to figure out the mechanism by which the disease travels in order to better know how to prevent the spread of it.

“I’m just so humbled and so grateful,” Stadler said. “It’s such an honor to get this. I was in disbelief but so excited to have this scholarship to do my research.”

Andrew Lakenau, a third-year College student who was awarded the scholarship last year, said the scholarship allowed him to make great progress on his research and attend conferences to present his research to others.

“I think the Beckman Scholarship has been really, really nice,” he said. “It’s given me a lot of time to work on my project, and there’s no place I’d rather be than Charlottesville doing work.”

Published April 17, 2014 in FP test, News

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