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Bryan Edwards '12

From A to Zebrafish: Learning to Understand the Body

Where does scientific learning happen? Arriving at DePauw in fall 2008, Bryan Edwards ’12 thought of learning as a classroom activity. Through his years at DePauw, he learned that education is something that often occurs outside of the classroom.

“I came to DePauw hoping to learn more about the human body and how it works. My experiences with DePauw’s Science Research Fellows program helped put me in a position to learn though experience and gain a better understanding of how scientific knowledge is first discovered,” he said.

Every Science Research Fellows student is guaranteed his or her first research lab experience for the summer following acceptance into the program. For Edwards, these experiences began freshman year in Dr. Patrick Babington’s kinesiology lab studying post-exercise potentiation.

“Dr. Babington taught me about the relationship between the nervous and muscular systems, but more importantly he taught me about research itself. Working on my first research project gave me an idea about how we collect the information we read about in textbooks,” Edwards explained.

This research experience as well as a Winter Term experience helped Edwards secure his next research position with DelPalma Orthopedics.

“After shadowing Dr. Dale Dellacqua during Winter Term my sophomore year, I was familiar with his work and eager to help out,” he said.

Edwards spent the summer evaluating the efficacy of a newly developed surgical instrument for the treatment of Trigger Finger, the Advansor TF. After conducting a series of patient interviews, chart reviews, and observing use of the device, Edwards had the data required to evaluate its early success. He then used this data to examine what treatment options are most cost effective for patients and physicians. 

“I loved the concrete applications of this research experience. The work I did demonstrated the most cost-effective means of receiving treatment. In a world where we cannot assume everyone has financial access to care, these questions are incredibly important,” he claimed.

All of these experiences helped prepare Edwards for work with Dr. Henning Schneider’s research lab. In this lab, he uses zebrafish to test the influence of different serotonin drugs on nicotine response. This project could lead to finding new chemicals for more effective smoking cessation therapies.

“This project has been absolutely wonderful for me. Dr. Schneider has allowed me to gain experience with every part of this lab. Instead of feeling like I am following orders, I feel like I am helping direct the research and discovery within the lab,” he said.

This lab has even given Edwards some experience in sharing knowledge in the academic community. He has presented the research at DePauw as well as the Mayo Clinic. He is also listed as a co-author in a research textbook chapter that describes his work with Dr. Schneider’s lab.

“Having the opportunity to collaborate with the Mayo Clinic in some of our research has been a fantastic opportunity. It helped demonstrate to me how we are all a part of a larger research community. Collaboration with the Mayo Clinic also helped me understand how different people fulfilling very different roles work together in research. In medical research, you often need physicians, researchers, technicians, and a host of other support staff to find the answers people are searching for,” Edwards explained.

Edwards continued, “Many students are able to develop a basic understanding of science in their coursework, but I was able to participate in the scientific community. I was able to see how my work could have some influence on the academic community as a whole.”

After graduation, Bryan hopes to attend medical school and find ways to continue to utilize his background in research.

“If my different research experiences have taught me anything, it’s that there are many different ways to study the body. I learned about it through zebrafish testing, human testing, chart reviews, and interviews. I look forward to opportunities to continue learning and contributing to the academic community as a physician,” Edwards explained.