Bioengineering student Aaron Schwartz-Duval of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently participated in the French American Doctoral Exchange program (FADEx) for 2016: Nanoparticles for Medicine. The FADEx program invites both French and American students to participate in a seminar in France along with leading researchers in the field of nanoparticles in medicine. Schwartz-Duval was one of only 10 American students chosen for the award this year. He said he sees it as a wonderful opportunity to gain knowledge and exposure for his research.
“Participating in the doctoral exchange (provided) an incredibly unique, niche seminar highly specific for my own work — nanoparticles for medicine — that otherwise would be unavailable to me, especially in the platform it presented,” he said.
The FADEx program included a two-day seminar in Grenoble, France, to discuss the latest advances in nanoparticles. After the Ph.D. students presented their research, a series of doctors and researchers gave additional lectures on nanoparticles and their application. Afterwards, the award recipients took tours of various research laboratories and institutions around France, including in Paris. Schwartz-Duval said he wished he had more time to present his research, but the experience was a tremendous honor.
Schwartz-Duval is a second-year Ph.D. student in Bioengineering at Illinois. Originally from Michigan, he earned a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Michigan State. Currently working with Bioengineering Assistant Professor Dipanjan Pan, Schwartz-Duval is studying the utilization of gold nanoparticles and how to apply them in healthcare. The development of gold nanoparticles can help facilitate the detection of health issues more often, more efficiently, and with a greater degree of safety than ultraviolet rays, which can be harmful to tissue. Gold nanoparticles can be used to penetrate tissue without causing sunburn. With the help of x-rays, the gold nanoparticles will act as “a remotely controllable scalpel, which does not require exposing the interior of the patient to the environment,” said Schwartz-Duval.
Another facet of his research focuses on whether these gold nanoparticles can be formed by individual cells. “This can be thought of as being similar to a pearl being formed by an oyster but instead, (it is) on a much smaller scale,” he said. In his future research, Schwartz-Duval said he would like to expand on the high branching (growth) of gold and apply it toward early detection and analysis of atherosclerosis (a disease that causes plaque buildup inside the arteries).
Pan said he encouraged Schwartz-Duval to apply to the FADEx program, as it would allow him "to appreciate the scientific environment in a European setting, meet new researchers working in a similar area, and gain a global perspective" and open doors for Schwartz-Duval's future collaboration with international researchers and bioengineers.
Part of what led Schwartz-Duval to pursue a career path in bioengineering was the increasing popularity of organic food, as well as the growing anti-vaccination movement, ideologies that he said were very prevalent in his childhood. These prompted him toward what he calls a “path towards self-discovery.”
"Aaron is a highly dedicated researcher in my lab," Pan said. "He brings a lot of creativity and passion into his research. He has the potential to end up in academia, eventually running his own lab. I'm confident this award will help him focus even more and add maturity to his research."
Schwartz-Duval said his decision to study at Illinois was based on his familiarity with the university and its reputation as a top research institution. Having already been to the campus for underwater hockey tournaments (a pursuit Schwartz-Duval still enjoys), he also was encouraged to apply for a research position with Pan’s lab. As a Ph.D. student here, he is taking his work with nanoparticles to the next level, thanks in part to the FADEx award.