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Anna Nguyen, ’12, wins Fulbright award to research cancer stem cells at Swiss lab

May 2, 2012 | By Nick Alexopulos

Loyola University Maryland student Anna Nguyen, ’12, has been awarded a Fulbright grant to research cancer stem cells in malignant bone and soft tissue tumors at a laboratory in Switzerland for a year beginning in August 2012. Nguyen is the second Loyola student to win a Fulbright this year, the fourth year in a row that a Loyola student has been honored with one of the prestigious international scholarship awards.

Nguyen, a biology major and chemistry minor from Clifton, Va., will join a research team in the Institute of Pathology at the University of Lausanne. She will work with the team in a lab to understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie the development of bone and soft tissue cancer, known as sarcoma, as well as tumor-host interactions. Her project is part of a larger ongoing initiative to study how the particular cancer stem cells that constitute the driving force of malignant tumors emerge.

“I was ecstatic when I found out I got the Fulbright,” said Nguyen. “I’m confident this opportunity to work in one of the world’s top labs for sarcoma research will be invaluable as I pursue my passion to serve the community through medicine.”

In 2002, Nguyen’s father, Sang, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Sang is now a survivor thanks to an early diagnosis and subsequent surgery. That experience left Nguyen, who was only 12 years old at the time, determined to pursue a career in medicine and dedicate her life to restoring health in others as doctors had done for her father. Following a research internship at the University of Lausanne in summer 2011, she learned of the opportunity to return to the same lab – this time as a Fulbright scholar – through Loyola’s national fellowships office and its director, Arthur M. Sutherland, Ph.D., who guided her through the application process. Her application was supported by Loyola faculty members Bradley Levin, M.D., affiliate assistant professor of biology and pre-health professions coordinator; Jesse More, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry; and David Rivers, Ph.D., professor and chair of biology.

“Anna widens the intellectual horizons of those she lives and works with,” said Sutherland, who has been helping Nguyen identify research opportunities through fellowship programs since she was a first-year student. “The research she intends to do will make a significant contribution to her field. Her project has weight, meaning, and is within the reach of a student with Anna’s insight, determination, and drive.”

In addition to Nguyen’s previous research internship in Switzerland, she contributed to the development of new treatments for Hirschsprung’s disease while interning at the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute in Reutlingen, Germany, in summer 2010. Her work in Germany was the result of winning a scholarship sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). She has volunteered for seven years at the Northern Virginia Training Center, where she reads to intellectually disabled residents and sets up social events. She has also volunteered in the medical intensive care unit at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, and for the aftercare program at a Catholic elementary school in Baltimore. She is president of the Loyola Pre-Health Society, president of the Loyola Minority Students Pre-Health Society, and a team captain for Loyola’s chapter of Relay for Life. Her many honors and awards include membership in the Alpha Sigma Nu Honor Society and the National Biology Honor Society, and the Bill Davis Scholarship from the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. She is also in Loyola's honors program.

When Nguyen returns from Switzerland she plans to apply to medical schools and enroll in an M.D./Ph.D. program.

Nguyen’s Fulbright is one of only eight awarded for Switzerland this year. She follows classmate Emma Cogan, ’12, who recently won a Fulbright to teach English in primary and secondary schools in rural Malaysia, and two other students who were named Fulbright Alternates: Morgan Murray, ’12 (South Africa) and Christopher Wrightson, ’09 (Malaysia). Last year, Mazen Shomali, ’11, won a Fulbright grant to teach English in Macau, a former Portuguese colony now governed by China, located 37 miles southwest of Hong Kong. In 2009 and 2008, respectively, Frances Quattrone, ’09, won a Fulbright to study venomous wasps in Turkey, and Tania Ziegler, ’09, won a Fulbright to do economic research in China.

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