North Central College - Naperville, IL

North Central College students present new research at conference

Print Email Share

Madison Henry ’13 and Michelle Branigan ’13
Madison Henry ’13 and Michelle Branigan ’13

Two North Central College juniors—biochemistry major Michelle Branigan of Plainfield and biology major Madison Henry of Sterling, Ill.—share a common passion for medical research.

Branigan has her sights on medical school and Henry on a physician assistant’s program. Both College Scholars, they are acutely interested in human anatomy and eager to contribute to the field. They spend hours on end at the Kroehler Science Center, either in the laboratory conducting research or on computers quantifying research results. Both wanted to pursue the research required for their majors overseas with a study abroad opportunity. They were accepted to study abroad during fall term 2011 at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and to work on an independent research project with Quentin Fogg, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the School of Life Sciences.

The research and analysis they conducted with Fogg were accepted for presentation at the 2012 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), the leading conference on undergraduate research in the United States. Their poster, titled “The Enthesial Architecture of the Human Foot: An Analysis of the Force-bearing Tissues,” will be presented during the March 29-31 conference at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. They are among 45 students from North Central College whose research will be presented at NCUR.

“North Central has associations with many programs and faculty abroad and connected us with this opportunity at Glasgow. It turned out to be a great fit,” says Henry. Branigan agrees: “North Central and our faculty were so willing and eager to work with us and make this project happen.” In addition to a full load of classes, they took a course for medical school students with Fogg, who helped them develop a research project that interested them and complemented his work.

That project involved studying tissues in the foot, especially the locations where tendons and ligaments attach to a bone, an area called an enthesis, and the injuries that commonly occur from overuse. Branigan and Henry worked with human cadavers and did their own dissecting and splitting of specimens to study the tissues.

“Working on the human body was an amazing opportunity for us. At North Central, we only work with animals, so this was special,” says Henry. “We took sections of our specimens and made medical slides, then made pictures of each slide and loaded the images into a software program, which calculates how much tissue is in the area.”

Branigan focused on the tibialis anterior tendon attachment site at the inside of the foot near the toe, and Henry focused on the Achilles tendon site at the back of the heel. They discovered certain attachment sites of tissues to the bone at the foot are more vulnerable to stress and overuse due to the weight-bearing function. They believe a better understanding of the tissue types at these sites can help in the planning of surgeries that require reattaching tendons and ligaments to bone and rehabilitation efforts. “This research hasn’t been done before,” Henry says.

In North Central’s lab, Henry and Branigan have been quantifying the amount of each tissue they collected and analyzing data in preparation for their NCUR presentation. Fogg introduced them to another conference presentation this summer in Grenada, where they hope to present their research and findings at the annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists.

“This experience has been priceless,” says Henry. “Our connection with someone of Dr. Fogg’s caliber has been so valuable. He told us he’d be happy to write a letter of recommendation for graduate or medical school or do anything we needed. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.”

Both women secured Richter Independent Study Fellowship grants from North Central to support their airfare and lab costs for their study abroad and research in Scotland.