Research Abroad

Junior biochemistry major Ryan Niemeier, center, works with Dr. Craig Cady, left, in his research lab at Olin Hall.

By Frank Radosevich II
October 11, 2012

While most students spend a year studying abroad, junior Ryan Niemeier decided to spend a year doing researching abroad.

The biochemistry student from Peoria is currently working with the Network of Excellence for Functional Biomaterials, a group of research scientists affiliated with the National University of Ireland in Galway along Ireland’s west coast.

Niemeier is spending the academic year looking at the electrical impulses moving down nerve pathways in rats. The ultimate goal of the research is to understand how the electrical impulses function as well as the structure they travel on so that one day scientist could regenerate damaged nerves in humans.

A grant from the Whitaker International undergraduate scholarship program, which financially supports international research by students interested in biomedical engineering, is paying Niemeier’s expenses but he credits the academic atmosphere at Bradley for helping support his work.

“We have a lot of really motivated people here who are driven to get research done. And the quality of research we do is probably better than a lot of graduate schools,” he said. “I’m glad Bradley is a school where if a students wants to do research, they are entirely free to pursue it and encouraged to do so.”

A research assistant in the lab of Dr. Craig Cady, an associate professor in biology at Bradley, Niemeier did most of his work in the field of nanofiber. He spent three years studying nanofiber materials designed to contain and induce stem cells to grow and repair the body. If not kept at the site of injury by the nanofiber, the stem cells can move around the body and develop into unintended tissues or become tumors.

“The goal of these nanomaterials is to keep the stem cells isolated in one place and direct their growth,” Niemeier explained. “Because you don’t want stem cells turning into bone when you are trying to fix the heart.”

His research also looked at what would make an ideal material for the nanofiber web. The options have run the gamut from shrimp shell protein, bovine protein from gelatin to polylactic acid. It’s hoped the nanofiber research could help cure neurological disorders or repair damaged tissues, bones or organs.

Cady first started working with Niemeier during Bradley’s BEST program, which pairs area high school students with researchers in Bradley science labs over the summer. Niemeier did two summers of research with Cady before Cady asked him back as a college freshman.

“When Ryan started as a freshman he had more experience than some of my students do after their second year,” Cady said.

Undergraduate research is key for students wanting to attend graduate school, Cady said, and it is a major commitment. He said the benefit of studying at Bradley is that students can do more meaningful work earlier in their academic careers.

“If Ryan was at a larger institution, he would be cleaning dishes as a first year student,” said Dr. Cady.  “Here at Bradley, Ryan is culturing stem cells and neurons and doing real research work.”