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Baxter Young Investigator Awards Presented to Up-and-Coming Minds in Science

One woman spoke of molecular mobility and developing models to predict crystallization from the amorphous state. A young man discussed "acoustic tweezers" capable of trapping and manipulating single microparticles, cells and entire organisms. And another talked about in vivo magnetic resonance applications that could be used in lung imaging.

A rapt audience of scientists and executives from Baxter International Inc. listened to six young scientists present their research in fields like chemistry, life sciences, engineering, and material science. While their studies varied by topic, they did have one thing in commonall their research applied to the development of therapies and medical products that could save and sustain patients' lives. 

These six graduate students and postdoctoral fellowsXiaoyun Ding, Major Gooyit, Laurie Hazeltine, Khushboo Kothari, Michael Reich, M.D., and Nicholas Whiting, Ph.D. were the first tier winners of the 2012 Baxter Young Investigator Award, which rewards young scientists with a $2,000 cash prize for research with patient outcomes in mind (for a list of the second-tier award recipients, who each receive a $500 cash prize, click here). In a day-long event at Baxter's headquarters in Deerfield, Ill., the award recipients took a tour, presented their research, and attended lunch and an evening reception with Baxter scientists and professionals.

"It's a huge honorI'm still shocked," said Hazeltine, a graduate student in chemical and biological engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she does research with Professor Sean Palecek. "They did a lot to show us a great day and give a lot of support."

Hazeltine's research presentation, "Quantifying the Contractile Response of Human Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocytes to the Mechanical and Chemical Microenvironment," explained the work that she's done to characterize heart cells differentiated from stem cells, to ultimately make advances in treating heart disease. She stressed, "The more we can explore this now, the faster we can make it a reality."

The recognition is meaningful to her after years of hard work peppered by occasional setbacks.

"Sometimes you try something and it doesn't work," Hazeltine shared. "But sometimes when I'm feeling discouraged, it's nice to be able to think about what the research will be used for, to know that there's a higher purpose to what we're doing."

Major Gooyit, a graduate student studying chemistry at the University of Notre Dame who works with Professors Shahrir Mobashery and Mayland Chung, agreed, expressing how significant it is for him that his research, "Gelatinase Inhibition as a Therapeutic Approach for Treatment of Neurological Diseases and Diabetic Wounds" works towards meeting critical unmet medical needs.

He explained his research in laymen's terms, saying, "If you can selectively inhibit a lot of the gelatinase enzyme at an early stage of the injury, you may be able to prevent much of the damage after stroke and traumatic brain injury. The small molecules that we work with get distributed to the brain pretty quickly to help do this."  

Like Hazeltine, Gooyit finds the rigorous research process rewarding, despite obstacles that inevitably arise along the way.

"We hope to be able to proceed to clinical trials," he said. "But you have to be open to change. That's what science is."

The gathering of scientific minds was not only meant to recognize these outstanding accomplishments, but also to serve as an environment for the discussion and sharing of ideas.

"It provides a multidisciplinary forum for scientists and engineers in different areas to communicate and understand how each goes about evaluating novel ideas in their respective disciplines, to appreciate how they think and what's important," said Baxter Distinguished Scientist Barrett Rabinow, Ph.D., who spoke at the awards ceremony. "It not only provides an avenue to identify and meet outstanding talent responsible for this research and rewards those scientists, but also provides an enriching educational opportunity for our own scientific community."

As Hazeltine and Gooyit prepare to defend their thesis and pursue post-doctorate careers—Hazeltine wants to work in industry, using life science to help people; Gooyit has an interest in both academia and industry careersthey have both found the Baxter Young Investigator Award experience to be valuable.

Hazeltine shared, "It's good to look at where we've started, and to see how far we've come."