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MU researcher awarded National Medal of Science

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Shane Epping
/
University of Missouri

A University of Missouri researcher is one of only a dozen recipients of this year’s National Medal of Science, announced by President Obama Wednesday.

Frederick Hawthorne is the director of the International Institute of Nano and Molecular Medicine at MU, and will be receiving the nation’s highest honor for scientists.

In a press release, the University of Missouri said the institute “was created largely to facilitate Hawthorne’s research” with the chemical element Boron. Hawthorne is particularly excited about his most recent research into “Boron Neutron Capture Therapy” for cancer. He explains the process allows scientists to select cancer cells in the human body, label them with boron, and then bombard that Boron with neutrons that would eventually destroy the Boron, and in effect kill the cancer cells.

“We feel confident we have accomplished a proof of principle of this method, and although it’s been known for 50 years no one has been able to get it pinned down to a demonstratable process. So anyway, it works and we’re gonna scale it up,” Hawthorne said.

Hawthorne says MU is the ideal place to do this research, because of its medical program and the nuclear reactor on campus that serves as a source of neutrons for the procedure.

“Other Universities have pretty much shut down their nuclear activities but luckily Missouri went ahead and advanced their holdings in that area and are still doing so today, and that puts us in a pretty unique position nationally and internationally,” Hawthorne said.

He says Boron research is useful in a number of other fields, including medicine, catalysis and everyday chemistry. According to a press release, Hawthorne will join the other researchers at a ceremony at the White House early next year to receive the National Medal of Science. Hawthorne first came to MU to conduct his research in 2006.

Ryan Famuliner joined KBIA in February 2011. Ryan previously worked as a general assignment reporter and videographer at WNDU-TV in South Bend, Ind. and as a reporter and anchor at the Missourinet radio network in Jefferson City, MO. He’s reported nationally on NPR and WNYC’s The Takeaway.