M.D./Ph.D. student, Medical Scholars Program, College of Engineering, Department of Bioengineering
“I’m passionate about improving healthcare around the world, so my research is focused on developing a portable, low-cost point-of-care device for HIV/AIDS diagnosis in resource-limited settings such as Sub-Saharan Africa. The fellowships that I’ve received have helped support my research, giving me a chance not only to prove myself, but to move this project forward much more quickly, and that’s important because so many people could benefit from it.”
Empathetic and compassionate. Hard-working and persistent. Leading-edge innovator. Words that most of us would like to use to describe our personal physician. Words that definitely apply to Gregory Damhorst.
Greg was really good in math throughout his high school days and he always did well in math competitions. He consistently preferred scenarios where mathematics was applied to the real world, and this may help explain his fascination with physics. “Since the onset of my undergraduate education, I’ve wanted to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. This goal likely emanates from my experience in the Saturday Morning Physics program at Fermi National Accelerator Lab during my senior year of high school. The program was founded by Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman, and included lectures and facility tours on the FNAL campus over the course of several months. It all starts with physics, and it’s a great background for me, going into medicine.”
As an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois, he chose not to participate in research activities during his first two summers, but instead decided to follow a passion for leadership and service, working in various roles at a summer camp program that he’d attended as a child. This experience fostered his skills in teamwork, accountability, and communication, all valuable in the research that he currently performs. Greg regularly pursues opportunities to gain hands-on knowledge and broaden his experience, and his encounters with the homeless during his EMT training, and as a volunteer at two local clinics, deepened his understanding “… of how a person’s health affects their entire world, body, soul, and mind, in both the present and the future, with devastating ramifications if it isn’t maintained.”
Since early 2007, Greg has also been a leader with Interfaith in Action, a registered student organization on the Urbana campus. Greg is pursuing a career that combines medicine, technology, and service and he’s interested in the role that interfaith cooperation can play in the effort to bring health to the people who need it most. Greg always turns his faith and goals into action. For example, during the Spring of 2010, he launched the planning and vision for the local Champaign County effort for a “Million Meals for Haiti”, and he was very involved with bringing the final project to life.
Greg obtained his B.S. degree in physics in 2009, and worked with the Nuclear Physics Laboratory for 15 months before beginning his graduate work, an opportunity that he considers invaluable: “I remember that my first few days as a part of the nuclear physics group were humbling. It was as if I had to become acclimated to new language, new culture, and new thinking. I soon realized that this is because innovation is a fundamental part of the physics community. My experience in the nuclear physics community not only taught me about the scientific research process, it let me investigate topics in subatomic physics, and allowed me to explore a unique aspect of medical research. I’ve realized that new ideas are being implemented every day. No one has ever addressed the problems we’re addressing, so we must develop new technologies to solve them. We’re testing methods that have never been applied, so we thrive off of innovation. We’re answering questions that have previously been unanswerable, expanding science as we work. The most important effect of this experience, however, is that the more I participate in this culture, the more I want to unite its innovation with my enthusiasm for medicine.”
Greg was one of four awardees who received the Lorella M. Jones Summer Research Award in 2009—this fellowship supports an outstanding undergraduate student in Physics. Greg notes that such private gift support for students gives them a chance to prove themselves, while making it easier on the college or department to offer such learning opportunities, since donor funding removes the barrier of limited budget.
Greg is currently an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Medical Scholars Program where he’s pursuing a doctorate in bioengineering. “There’s a place in every tradition and worldview for the concept of service, and I’ve found that it provides a powerful platform for cross-cultural connections—not just interreligious, but also intergenerational, international, and even connections between cultures of close proximity, but stark disparity. I’ve found that medicine offers a basis for connecting with others that very few fields can provide so effectively.”
In December 2010, Greg was announced as one of four Engineering students selected as winners of the 10th Annual Roy J. Carver Fellowships in Engineering. “Being a Carver Fellow reinforces the notion of excellence, through providing technologies for the benefit of society,” says Greg.
What’s next for Greg? His current research with Professor Rashid Bashir involves developing a point-of-care HIV diagnostic device—to be used in global and resource-limited health settings—which employs microfluidic technology to perform a CD4+ T Cell count and viral load measurement, out in the field. “My focus is a career at the intersection of medicine and engineering, and the Carver Fellowship carries with it the responsibility to use one’s talent for the betterment of others through innovation, in continuing the legacy of other Fellows.”