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Century Scholar went above and beyond

By Mike Williams
Rice News Staff

Kamel-mugPeter Kamel recognized the opportunity of the Century when he saw it.

The Baltimore native was part of Rice’s 2009 class of Century Scholars, incoming freshmen who receive merit-based scholarships and are matched with faculty mentors for two years to participate in research projects.

As excited as he was about that, Kamel, now a student at Baylor College of Medicine, got an even more unusual opportunity to take on a project of his own under the watchful eye of Rice bioengineer Jane Grande-Allen.

Their partnership resulted in a paper this month that adds critical data to the notion that the calcification of heart valves may be linked to diabetes.

“Peter did tons and tons of experiments, systematically tried things, came to me when an approach wasn’t working and eventually we got it up and running,” Grande-Allen said of Kamel’s research into the metabolism of heart valve cells. “We got this very repeatable system (for experiments), and he was so consistent. He was more like a graduate student than an undergraduate.”

Kamel continued to pursue the project even after his two years as a Century Scholar ended. “He did research for academic credit and a couple months into his junior year; he let me know he was going to graduate after three years,” Grande-Allen recalled. “I was so upset that he was leaving so soon!”

Kamel, who earned his engineering degree in 2012, also took part in an award-winning student project to create a database, VaxNation, to help parents and patients keep track of immunizations.

“I was thankful for the opportunity to get involved in research right when I got to Rice,” Kamel said. “A few weeks before I came here, I got a list of mentors and the projects available, so I was able to get involved in research from day one. It really opened doors for me.”

His primary interest now is radiology. “I’m leaning toward academic medicine,” he said. “I would like the opportunity to pioneer different aspects of radiology and medicine and design new ways to approach clinical problems.”