Northwestern High School graduate Edward Botchwey has spent 17 years working in regenerative medicine.
Recently, the University of Virginia professor of biomedical engineering and orthopedic surgery received the highest award that the federal government gives to scientists and engineers embarking on independent research.
The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, created in 1996 by then President Bill Clinton, is intended to highlight and support professionals at the outset of their research careers.
Botchwey, 38, specializes in tissue engineering. He was recognized for his research focused on promoting growth of mature micro vascular blood vessel networks to improve healing after transplant surgery or injury.
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He won a $1.6 million grant to be doled out over five years.
Botchwey, whose family owns Wright Funeral Home in York, still has ties to the area. He recently talked with The Herald about his research, the award and life after Rock Hill.
Can you describe the research you are doing that won the Presidential award?
The project focuses on promoting growth of mature blood vessel networks to improve tissue healing after transplant surgery or injury. I design tools to deliver drugs that target sphingosine 1-phosphate receptors in ways that induce new arterioles to form and existing small blood vessels to structurally enlarge.
What is the potential impact of this research?
The research aims to stretch the boundaries on the body's native abilities to regenerate and provide completely new treatment options for patients suffering from massive tissue damage. The success of the research will also create new high-tech jobs right here at home.
What does winning the Presidential award mean for you and your research?
The award will provide much-needed funding for new experiments and support for the students who carry out the work. Presidential recognition helps to place a spotlight on the way in which innovations in regenerative medicine can improve health care and spawn new high tech industries.
When did you first realize that you wanted to work in this field and what drew you to the work?
Summer of 1993, after working in the minority summer research program at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). I worked in the laboratory of Cato T. Laurencin, MD., Ph.D. His mentoring and example drew me into the field.
Talk about your journey from Rock Hill to the field of regenerative medicine.
I went from Northwestern High School to finish an undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Maryland. I tutored high school students for extra money and happened to tutor the daughter of Margot Tyler, then associate dean for graduate education at MIT. She invited me to participate in the MSRP (summer research) program at MIT, where I met Dr. Laurencin.
My first exposure to the field of regenerative medicine in his lab gave me the opportunity to work with some of the world's most famous scientists in the field. I spent two years working in his laboratory as a research assistant, and settled on the University of Pennsylvania to do my Ph.D. in bioengineering in 2002. I moved from UPenn to UVA in 2003 and began the work that continues today.
What advice would you give current high school students who would like to follow a path similar to yours?
Do not be afraid to try. Success in math, science and engineering fields does not come easily, but I would not be where I am today if I had chosen only to do the things I was sure I could do.