Neuroscience and Behavior student's research chosen for undergraduate research journal

Author: Kathy Jonas

Hard work does pay off. Junior Madeline Owen’s research, published in a national journal highlighting the work of undergraduate students, serves as validation for the 250 plus hours she spent in research labs while at Notre Dame.

Madeline Owen

“I am incredibly grateful to be recognized for my role in undergraduate research, which I began at Notre Dame spring semester of my freshman year in a biology department lab, and continue with my current work in the bioengineering lab of Prof. Donny Hanjaya-Putra," said Owen, a neuroscience and behavior major from Columbus, Ohio.

Only 25 students are recognized each year in the prestigious NCHC Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (UReCA), an interdisciplinary online publication that serves as a venue for undergraduates who are making significant contributions in fields ranging from fine arts to STEM to creative writing. A few recent submissions included articles on traumatic brain injury, curbing hate speech and adapting literature to music.

Owen’s article “Controlled Delivery of Bioactive Molecules for Improvement of Endothelial Progenitor Cells in Gestational Diabetes Mellitus” is a part of the 2019 edition of the journal. Submissions are reviewed by team members across the country in a blind format so that the author receives an unbiased review and acceptances are merit-based.

An editorial team member wrote about Owen’s work: “This is a great production of an experiment that includes all the factors that we look for in STEM pieces.”

Owen works under Hanjaya-Putra, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, where Owen has pursued a passion for regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies. She is planning to attend medical school where she would like to study reconstructive orthopedics or neurology She describes her research as focused on stem cell therapeutics in order to gain greater understanding of the body’s reparative and regenerative abilities.

Owen’s desire to be a physician has existed for as long as she can remember and she even has a photo of herself as a little girl wearing a white lab coat with “Dr. Madeline” engraved on the pocket.

The publication of the article not only emphasizes the exemplary work of undergraduates, but also recognizes the faculty and staff who teach and guide students to success in their fields, according to the press release announcing Owen’s achievement. In that regard, Owen is quick to credit Hanjaya-Putra and Loan T. Bui, postdoctoral research assistant, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, who is Owen’s mentor and someone Owen credits with her development as a researcher and scientist. “She has encouraged me to work outside of my comfort zone,” she said. 

This past summer, Owen worked for 10 weeks doing research in Dublin, Ireland as part of the Naughton Fellowship at Trinity College, where she studied the role of bone marrow stem cells in bone formation. “It’s important to open up your mind beyond the textbook,” said Owen, emphasizing the importance of problem solving required in research when things don’t always go exactly the way you plan or hope. Noting the hundreds of hours spent in the lab, Owen believes this extra work has made her a better student and researcher.

Her research involves (ECFC’s), or cells that rejuvenate blood vessel linings. If these cells are damaged, as they are in the case of gestational diabetes, damage occurs in functions such as cell migration and proliferation, for example. She and other team members studied how specific particles can enhance the reparative mechanisms a healthy body normally performs itself, yet that are impaired under disease conditions. Her particular area of study was the genetic analysis aspect of the experiment.

“My hope is that this research will be clinically utilized in the future in a therapeutic way,” said Owen, who said that the genetic analysis work was very precise, time consuming and at times tedious. She said that persistence and resilience are key while doing such work.

She is grateful that she had the opportunity to do such cutting-edge research as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, which is not available at all universities. Also, the service-oriented aspect of helping people is a valuable component of what she does, and guides her in her academic work and research.

Owen mentioned Blessed Basil Moreau, who said: “We shall always place education side by side with instruction; the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.”

“The university’s philosophy – to be a force for good…that’s what motivates me," said Owen.

Originally published by Kathy Jonas at science.nd.edu on December 10, 2019.