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Matthew Crowson Pursues Cardiac Research Through Senior Fellowship

by Sarah Caney '09

Posted November 25, 2008
Tags Senior Fellows
Growing up with a mother in the nursing profession and three uncles employed within the medical field, Matthew Crowson's attraction to science developed at an early age. He remembers hearing their personalized accounts of difficult or unusual cases and "thinking they were cool and gory." His curiosity continued to build, and eventually influenced him to take AP Biology in high school. "Ever since, I've been hooked," he explains. 

Upon arriving at Hamilton, Matt elected to follow the pre-med track, furthering his studies through summer research internships. It was during one such experience at the Ottawa Heart Institute that Matt first considered applying to be a Senior Fellow at Hamilton. Each spring the Dean of the Faculty designates up to seven academically outstanding members of the junior class as Senior Fellows. Students in the junior year may become candidates by submitting a proposal for a senior year of independent study. The proposal usually grows out of earlier independent study courses and is framed in consultation with two faculty advisers of the student's choice. 

Senior Fellows are exempt from taking a normal course load in the conventional curriculum, and they need not complete concentration requirements; they may take such courses as are appropriate to their fellowship projects and their educational goals.

At the Ottawa Heart Institute ongoing research included the attempt to generate cardiac muscle from general muscle, thus introducing the possibility of replacing dead tissue with live muscle in the event of a heart attack. Matt's specific responsibility involved the isolation and identification of a molecule that is imperative to this process. Future implications for this research are twofold: in addition to the potential advancements for heart conditions, findings may also facilitate oncological developments. It has been deduced that tumors operate in a similar manner as cardiac muscle, directing the flow of blood vessels to regulate its nourishment. Thus, research involving cardiac muscle may reveal information that can be applied to cancer studies. 

Although Hamilton's faculty does not include a professor within this specified field, Matt was encouraged to complete his studies here by way of the fellowship. While his supervisor at Ottawa remains his primary source of guidance, Matt also looks to Associate Professor of Biology Herm Lehman and Professor of Biology SueAnn Miller for advice. The support of the department has been vital in the process of procuring a grant for the purchase of a machine that is instrumental to the identification of the molecules produced throughout the project. In this way, Matt says his advisors have "let me explore my own avenues…here, we have mentors instead of professors." 

It is precisely this exposure to more advanced avenues that Matt believes will benefit his future scientific research. "It's been great to have the opportunity to pursue something completely specific to my interests," he attests. "I haven't heard of that flexibility at other colleges." 

Currently in the process of applying to medical schools, Matt hopes that his unique experience will leverage his position. The joint M.D. and Ph.D. programs he is interviewing for are both competitive and demanding; the degree requires seven years of academic study in addition to the standard residency requirement. Such a commitment may seem astonishing to many graduating seniors, many of whom are still unsure of their career paths. Matt's dedication, however, is grounded in much more than an interest in biology. While he sees the importance and potential in medical research, he says he "couldn't be chained to a research lab for the rest of my life." He has chosen the combined degree because he believes that science is more than the acquisition of knowledge; shadowing specialists within the medical profession has allowed him to see "the human element to medicine. It shares no equal in another field, in the greatness it can accomplish for someone." 

Matt's findings will be presented at the end of second semester, along with those of the other four Hamilton College Senior Fellows.

-- by Sarah Caney '09

Related Information
Senior Fellowship Program

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