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Beating cancer, one nanoparticle at a time

Small wonder that Sean Burns, E’13, spends 10 hours a day in a medical oncology laboratory at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, developing and improving nanoparticle screening methods for testing the effectiveness of potential drugs on many forms of cancer: His mom is a nurse and several of his family members have battled the disease.

“Cancer is something that has interested me throughout my life,” said Burns, a fifth-year chemical engineering major who plans to attend medical school next fall. “Even though there are so many treatments, incidence and mortality are on the rise.”

Burns is one of more than a dozen under­grad­uate stu­dents from across the country par­tic­i­pating in the Steam­boat Foundation’s 10-​​week Summer Scholars Pro­gram. He received $10,000 from the foun­da­tion, which sup­ports stu­dents who show poten­tial for becoming leaders in their chosen field.

Every year, one stu­dent is selected from each of the foundation’s partner uni­ver­si­ties to com­plete an intern­ship with one of the foundation’s grant part­ners, in fields ranging from health care to hospitality.

Designing compounds on co-op with Millennium Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biopharmaceutical company, prepared Burns for his new role at Dana-Farber. He created more than 100 molecules over two six-month experiential-learning opportunities with the company.

“I was doing cutting-edge chemistry with new reagents and new chemicals that scientists have just begun using in this decade,” he said. “I’m going to use that knowledge to more effectively design dyes for screening assays at Dana-Farber.”

The undergraduate student-researcher said he quickly became an integral part of the team. “Millennium did a great job of engaging me,” he explained. “I felt like I belonged there and that I was making an important contribution.”

Burns — an Avon, Conn., native who enjoys cooking, snowboarding and playing guitar — prefers to spend his free time helping others. As a Civic Engagement Program scholar, he has volunteered at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and spent more than 400 hours tutoring local high-school students at SquashBusters, an after​​school urban youth devel­op­ment pro­gram on the North­eastern campus. Last year, he helped two high-school seniors apply to college.

“Two of the biggest reasons I chose to attend Northeastern were its co-op program and the Civic Engagement Program,” Burns said. “It sounded like the perfect place to be and I couldn’t be happier.”

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