Beating the sugar rush

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ever since he was diagnosed with Type I (juvenile onset) diabetes at the age of five, Justin Bushkofsky had wanted to be a doctor. But after he enrolled in the pre-med program at SCSU, the young man took a detour that is leading him to a lifetime of research.

When Chemistry Professor Mohammad Mahroof-Tahir shared his research with then-sophomore Bushkofsky, the latter was so impressed that he changed his major and worked alongside the professor until he earned his bachelor’s in biotechnology and biochemistry in May. As the young man’s advisor, Mahroof-Tahir was also the one who, early in the 2005-06 school year, urged him to try to present his own research to a national audience.

The student wrote a successful proposal to secure funds from the SCSU Office of Sponsored Programs to attend the four-day American Chemical Society Spring Meeting in Atlanta, Ga., in March. Five SCSU students were among the more than 900 students who made poster presentations at the event.

Bushkofsky’s presentation on the research he conducted with Mahroof-Tahir attracted the close attention of Professor Debbie Crans of Colorado State University, which has one of the nation’s leading bioinorganic chemistry programs.

Crans was so impressed that she approached Bushkofsky, invited him to look at her vanadium/biology research and, if he was interested in working with her, to give her a call about the possibility of graduate school at Colorado State. Upon Crans’ urging, he visited Colorado State to give the prestigious program there serious consideration.The 23-year-old, who’s from St. Cloud, later decided on the endocrinology graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to which he had already won admission.

Along with the motivation provided by his own experience with diabetes and his advisor’s help, Bushkofsky’s interest in a career teaching and doing diabetes research has had the enthusiastic support of his family. "It had my mom in tears when I presented my senior thesis," he said. "My parents know this is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was little."

Bushkofsky says his research at SCSU has had a positive effect on his health. "It’s made me more aware of the complications – I’m better about what I need to do because I know the consequences." With careful control of his diet and three-times-a-day testing his diabetes is under control. But he wants to know more, with a particular goal for the future: "I want an understanding of a new aspect of the disease that I could present to the scientific community," he said.

With the help of his advisor, and the research his advisor supervised, Bushkofsky worked as an intern the summers of 2004 and 2005 in the matrix metalloprotease lab at R&D Systems, Minneapolis.

This summer, before heading off to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bushkofsky decided to "take it easy" and work at a pizzeria. "I want to relax and enjoy my friends before I go," he said shortly after graduation, friends he made while taking classes and conducting research in the SCSU Department of Chemistry. "You make a lot of good friends there."

Student shared complex research with community

The 750 people who attended the SCSU Student Research Colloquium this spring could take in Bushkofsky’s presentation to the American Chemical Society. His abstract summarized the research he did alongside Professor Mahroof-Tahir:

"Vanadium has been targeted as a possible biometallic medication for its ability to lower blood glucose levels for diabetes. Flavonoids show strong antioxidant properties and also exhibit antidiabetic properties." Bushkofsky went on to explain that he and his advisor studied the synergistic effects of the two anti-diabetic agents, followed by a summary of their findings.

Bushkofsky was one of more than 250 students who presented their work at the student research conference, an annual event at SCSU.

- Marjorie Proell

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