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Pediatric Brain Research Focus of Goldwater Scholarship Winner

July 24, 2014 – Sarah Waye (C’15) has received this year’s prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for her undergraduate research on one of the most common and devastating childhood brain tumors.

After graduation, she hopes to build on the research she’s been conducting in the lab of Georgetown professor Christopher Albanese by concentrating on doctoral programs in stem cell and regenerative biology.

“I think that stem cell research is really the key to the future of medicine,” Waye says. “Even in the past several years, there have been amazing advances made that may allow us to grow transplantable organs and save the lives of many people.”

Albanese says that next year she will serve as the first author on at least two scholarly papers.

Fixing the Brain

“My specific hope for the future of stem cell research is that it can be used to do what was previously thought impossible, which is to fix the brain and nervous system,” she adds.

The Goldwater Scholarship recognizes undergraduate scientists, engineers and mathematicians who plan to pursue a career in research upon graduation.

The undergraduate researcher and scholar says her introduction to the lab was met with anxiety, having come from school where she was required to study the controversial theory of intelligent design.

“I was terrified at first,” she says. “I hardly knew anything about research.”

Energy and Enthusiasm

Her first experience in the lab happened over the summer before her freshman year at Georgetown as a Howard Hughes research scholar.

“Through that process, I learned how to pick a lab and figure out what I was interested in studying,” says Waye, a native of Marietta, Georgia.

She chose to work in Albanese’s lab at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Sarah has continued to impress me with her energy, enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and perseverance,” says Albanese, a professor of oncology at the Georgetown University Medical Center. “Despite coming to my lab with little experience in cancer research … [she] totally immersed herself in the intellectual background of and methodological approaches required for her major focus…”

Dedication to Research

Waye is one of five undergraduates from her home state to win a Goldwater Scholarship this year, and her fellow neurobiology major Kirsten Craddock (C’15) received an honorable mention.

“Winning the scholarship has really validated all of the time I’ve put into my contribution to the science world,” Waye says. “I think that winning a Goldwater has helped not only to motivate me to continue my research, but also to confirm that I’m on a path that I have a passion and skill for.”

Albanese now describes Waye as fearless in her research and ambition.

“As she enters her senior year in my lab, Sarah will be completing the experiments that will ultimately lead to at least two first-authored papers,” he says. “These papers, along with co-authored manuscripts with other members of my group and her stellar academic credentials, will certainly be testimonials to her dedication to research.”