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Celebrating 75 years of Vision: Monica Burdick reflects

Courtney Kessler and Peter Shooner | May 4, 2010

Celebrating 75 years of Vision: Monica Burdick reflects

Courtney Kessler and Peter Shooner | May 4, 2010

This is the third in a series of Russ College faculty profiles, in celebration of the Russ College's 75th anniversary (1935-2010.)

Monica Burdick feels she found a special place at the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University, saying the “leadership, faculty, staff and students” are the best part of her job.

Burdick, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, joined the Russ College three years ago after a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass.

Her love of working with undergraduates is what made her want to teach, but the teaching and research environment she found at the Russ College made her choose Ohio University.

“Of the places I could have gone, this position was the overall best fit,” Burdick says.

Doug Goetz, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the biomedical engineering program at Ohio University, agrees that Burdick belongs. “Students and faculty at Ohio University are very fortunate to have attracted Monica to Athens,” he says.

Being fairly new to teaching, Burdick says that her teaching philosophy is still evolving, but that it’s based on taking a multi-faceted approach to problem solving. She also notes that that she and her students are all learning together.

“One of the things I try to do -- with varying success across my classes and in the lab -- is to look at problems from the perspectives of different professionals: clinicians, engineers, biological scientists,” she explains. “By studying the many facets of a problem, I think the learning happens as we, instructor and students, ask questions about why issues A, B, C, etc., are important to the different professionals.”

Burdick uses her multi-faceted approach in the research lab as well, where she and her group use methods from a range of disciplines to study how cancer cells travel through the bloodstream to form new growths, or metastasize. 

“My lab group uses techniques from biology and chemistry, along with engineering analyses of forces generated by blood flow, to understand the pathways that govern the spread of cancer,” she says. 

Because most types of cancer are highly treatable in the early stages, her lab is particularly interested in how cancer stem cells may be involved in metastasis. Not only are those stem cells resistant to traditional radiotherapies and chemotherapies, but they are also thought to be responsible for generation of new metastatic colonies, making them deadly.

Burdick’s research, which is supported by an external grant from the Ohio Cancer Research Associates, is focused on developing better techniques to distinguish stem cells from non-stem cells, and how those different cells move through the bloodstream. Although she and her lab focus primarily on how breast cancer spreads to bone, they look at several types of cancers as well.

“The similarities or differences between the different cancers help us to decipher which molecules could be good targets for cancer therapies, diagnostics, and prognostics,” she explains.

Burdick is excited about the University’s acquisition of a new flow cytometer -- a piece of equipment used for cellular and molecular analysis. The cytometer, just been purchased thanks to a National Science Foundation grant, makes it possible to analyze particles to actively separate and isolate cells by specific properties. 

While Burdick’s achievements in cancer research are important, she says that she’s most proud of the accomplishments of her students, specifically two students who received a student enhancement award for their research project “Characterization of Glycolipid Ligands for E-selectin.” The two seniors, Courtney Abram and Jocelyn Marshall, used part of the funds to travel to a research lab in Brazil and presented their project at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting last spring in Washington, D.C.

Burdick acknowledges that every faculty member in her department has guided her in some way, but two have exceeded her expectations. 

“Doug Goetz has gone far and above the call of duty in mentoring,” she notes. “Shiyong Wu from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has also been extremely helpful and encouraging in the research realm.”

In the next five years, Burdick hopes to make notable contributions to the cancer research community—not just the biomedical and chemical engineering communities.

Goetz has confidence. “Monica’s technical expertise, creativity and dedication to science, her ability to inspire and mentor students combined with her interpersonal skills which make her a great pleasure to work with, make it clear that Monica will have a stellar career both as a scientist and an educator,” he says. “The future for biomedical engineering research and education at Ohio University is very bright in large part due to Monica.”