Thompson Wins Outstanding ASPIRE Student Research Award

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Joshua Thompson.

Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BioE) sophomore Joshua Thompson, advised by Associate Professor John Fisher, has won the 2011 Outstanding ASPIRE Student Research Award for his work on skeletal muscle regeneration. ASPIRE, A Scholars Program for Industry-Oriented Research in Engineering, run by the A. James Clark School of Engineering, offers students the opportunity to move beyond the classroom by working with faculty or staff on real-world engineering projects.

Thompson has worked for Fisher in the Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Laboratory since the summer of 2010. He pursued the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research because he felt it would be a "unique and exciting opportunity" to prepare for a career in medicine. He describes Fisher's lab as "a perfect fit" with his interests.

Thompson joined BioE graduate student Martha Wang on a study of the efficacy of gene delivery for skeletal muscle regeneration. The goal of the project was to study the characteristics of porous polymer scaffolds—special biocompatible materials that provide an environment that supports the growth of new cells—as gene delivery devices. The project required the use of approaches from several areas of biology and chemistry.

"I was interested in this project because, since it built off of previous work, it seemed like an excellent way to hit the ground running," says Thompson. "The idea of speeding growth through gene delivery was new and exciting to me, and it was amazing to see how the ideas I was exposed to in my biology and bioengineering classes are put into practice. This [was] a great way to learn about...the practical applications of biomaterials."

"This [project] involved a steep learning curve that Josh was able to overcome with ease," says Fisher. "Despite several unforeseen setbacks that nearly compromised the project, Josh remained dedicated and optimistic. Due to his initiative and creative solutions when dealing with challenges, he was able to complete the necessary work to demonstrate the ability of our scaffolds for use a gene delivery vehicle."

Thomspon's perseverance paid off, and not only in the success of his experiments: a paper on the research that that he co-authored with with Fisher Group was published in Pharmaceutical Research, one of the top pharmacology journals.

"The thing that I enjoyed most about the experience was learning new procedures and techniques that I had never done before," Thompson adds. "It was great to be part of the enormous amount of work that goes into a long term project and eventually witness the results of that project as a has definitely given me a unique knowledge and understanding of the long process that takes an idea to a result that can help patients."

Thompson is the third BioE undergraduate to win the ASPIRE award since the department's launch in July 2006, and the fourth whose project was based in a BioE laboratory or research group. He is preceded by Omar Ayyub (2010, B.S. '10), Adam Behrens (2009, B.S.'10, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), and Gunja Dave (2007, B.S. '09), all of whom are now students in the Graduate Program in Bioengineering.

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Published April 21, 2011