For Kevin Graepel ’11, a career in biomedical research is a goal that he has been working toward since his first year at Hamilton. Graepel, who graduated with a degree in chemistry last month, will take the next step in realizing his goal as he begins a two-year stint conducting research in Bethesda, Maryland, on viral pathogenesis and vaccine development for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Graepel says he has had an interest in chemistry since high school and was particularly fascinated by what he learned during his general chemistry class with Professor Tim Elgren. “This course really opened my eyes to the extremely complex and fascinating applications of the material,” says Graepel. He began to pursue an interest in biomedical research through further Hamilton classes, and knew he was hooked after a semester in Assistant Professor of Chemistry Nicole Snyder-Lee’s Chemical Immunology and Immunopharmacology class. “The elegance of our immune system is astounding,” says Graepel, “and there is so much left to learn.”
During the rest of his time at Hamilton, Graepel worked to build an impressive background of experience in biomedical research. He worked with Professor Snyder-Lee in the summer of 2009, seeking to synthesize an unnatural carbohydrate analog in order to better understand developed resistance to antimicrobial drugs.
In the summer of 2010, Graepel and chemistry classmate Taylor Adams ’11 accompanied Snyder-Lee to Berlin, Germany, where she was beginning a sabbatical year at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces in the Department of Biomolecular Systems. Together they worked on the development of a carbohydrate-based vaccine for glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive primary brain tumor. For his senior year thesis, Graepel worked his Snyder-Lee, his advisor, to synthesize phthalocyanine-carbohydrate complexes as novel agents for photodynamic therapy.
Graepel’s position with the NIH was granted to him through a Post-Baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award, a program designed to provide research experience to recent college graduates planning to continue to further schooling in a health profession. Graepel hopes to turn his passion for biomedical research into a career, so this job is a great postgraduate transition for him.
He first heard about the NIH program through a conversation with Coordinator of Health Professions Advising Leslie North, whom Graepel says was a great help in the application process. North put Graepel in touch with Aaron Richtermann ’09 (who participated in the NIH program two years ago) but was also a great resource early on in Graepel’s job search, brainstorming with him to find options and possible career pathways that were meaningful personally as well as professionally. He also notes that the strength of his application was aided by the Goldwater Honorable Mention he received in 2010, thanks in large part to the assistance of Student Fellowships Coordinator Ginny Dosch.
Graepel’s research begins on June 20th, and he will be working with Dr. Barney Graham, the chief of both the Clinical Trials Core and Viral Pathogenesis Laboratories within the Vaccine Research Center, which is part of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease. He is working with the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and healthy children but can cause severe respiratory problems in younger children and infants, especially those who already struggle with immune deficiencies or chronic lung disease.
The basic goal of his project is to figure out how RSV works—how it infects someone, the kind of cells that it invades, etc. If researchers are able to identify a specific protein on the viral coat that is unique to RSV, then they can begin to develop a vaccine that could potentially lessen the dangers associated with the virus.
During his time at Hamilton, Graepel was a member of the Delta Phi fraternity, an orientation leader, a member of the Senior Gift Committee, and a participant, leader, and member of the executive board of Alternative Spring Break.
He plans to continue with biomedical research and obtain either a Ph.D. or M.D., but stresses the importance of patient contact. Doing clinical shadowing at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the St. Elizabeth's Family Medicine Residency Program in Utica, Graepel realized the rewards that come with meeting and talking to patients. “I want to be able to directly interact with patients afflicted with the illnesses I'm working to treat,” he says. “By working with the people I want to help, I hope to keep my research focused and driven.”
Kevin Graepel is a graduate of West Chester East High School in Pennsylvania.