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Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing

  • Shannon DePratter

DePratter one of four USC students named Goldwater Scholars

Since 1989, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has awarded more than 10,000 scholarships to students who intend to pursue research careers. Last month, the foundation awarded 413 scholarships nationwide and biomedical engineering student Shannon DePratter was one of four University of South Carolina students selected as Goldwater scholars.

As a Goldwater scholar, DePratter will receive a $7,500 yearly scholarship and have access to a large network of leading researchers who can help provide mentorship and career opportunities.

DePratter is an Honors College student who is in the accelerated master’s program. She will graduate next year with her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering with a minor in neuroscience and a master’s degree in 2025. After graduating, she plans to attend Columbia University to earn her Ph.D.

DePratter’s interest and motivation in biomedical engineering and neuroscience came from her experiences with her great-grandmother, who both had dementia. She witnessed how the disease progressed and wanted to try to help find positive outcomes. 

“I've always been interested in the brain and initially wanted to be a neurologist or do brain surgery. Even though I eventually didn’t want to attend medical school, I still wanted to make  something that will help people, and biomedical engineering could do that.” 

DePratter was a freshman when she first learned about the Goldwater Scholars. While meeting with an honors national fellowship advisor, she learned she was eligible for the Goldwater program. DePratter also talked with Biomedical Engineering Program Director Mark Uline, who introduced her to research opportunities and connected her with Chemical Engineering Department Chair Melissa Moss

“I read articles about Goldwater scholars from last year, and one of them was doing neuroscience research. I talked to Dr. Moss and realized that she had been involved with Goldwater for a long time, and she encouraged me to apply,” DePratter says.

Moss served as the head of the Goldwater selection committee this year, and Uline also served on the committee.

“Shannon is on the path for an academic research career in which she will contribute to the next generation of neurodegeneration therapeutics. The Goldwater Scholarship will undoubtedly propel her to reach this goal,” Moss says. 

DePratter began working in Moss’s lab in October 2021 while serving as an undergraduate researcher assisting on work related to the amyloid beta hypothesis. The hypothesis theorizes that neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease result from proteins misfolding from a healthy structure into an alternative shape that forms visible clumps. These clumps kill neurons in the brain.

Last summer, DePratter received a McNair Junior Fellows and worked with Moss to look at how solution conditions affect aggregation. Her current research focuses on traumatic brain injury and the relationship between its physiological effects and the development of Alzheimer's disease. 

“I started working with human cells to produce an inflammatory response that was similar to traumatic brain injury. I took what those cells produced and added amyloid beta protein into it,” DePratter says. 

DePratter also plans to examine cytokines, which are a type of protein that is crucial in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells. She will analyze specific cytokines related to traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s to determine if they cause amyloid beta aggregation. 

DePratter will add to her impressive list of research experiences with an internship this summer at Columbia University in the lab of Biomedical Engineering Professor Henry Hess. Her work will focus on nanobots for tissue regeneration, which according to DePratter, will fill a void in learning more about computer science and bioinformatics fields. 

“Shannon is a great student that is growing into an outstanding researcher,” Uline says. “What makes her special is that she has the passion and creativity for her work that cannot be taught by a mentor. This is just the beginning of a very long list of research awards.”

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