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UW Bioengineering student Cameron Turtle receives Rhodes Scholarship

Cameron Turtle UW Bioengineering undergraduate student Cameron Turtle has been named a Rhodes Scholar for 2012. His fellow UW student Byron Gray, majoring in political science; law, societies and justice; and Asian studies; has also been selected for the prestigious scholarship. The UW is the only public university in the country that had two students selected as Rhodes Scholars this year.

The Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest international fellowship awards in the world, and are supported by the Rhodes Trust, a charity established in honor of Cecil Rhodes. The scholarships provide full support for students to study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Gray and Turtle were among 32 scholars in the United States who were selected for the scholarships, from a pool of 830 candidates nominated by their colleges and universities.

Turtle has received both the Mary Gates and Goldwater scholarships during his time as a student in UW Bioengineering, and helped co-found the organization Bioengineers Without Borders at the UW, a student group putting bioengineering skills to work in solving global health problems. His research has focused on cardiac function and therapeutics, and he was worked closely with Michael Regnier, professor and vice-chair of the Department of Bioengineering.

Turtle plans to continue his research on cardiac function while pursuing a D.Phil. degree at Oxford, starting next fall. He hopes to work with the researchers Hugh Watkins and Charles Redwood at Oxford, shifting his research focus slightly to examine genetic mutations that are related to cardiomyopathy, the deterioration of heart muscle tissue. The opportunity to continue his research overseas through the Rhodes Scholarship is a testament to the support he has gotten while at the UW, Turtle said.

“I think this speaks to the quality of the education we get in BIOE and at the university as a whole,” Turtle said. “I’m very excited about this opportunity. I’ve talked to a bunch of previous Rhodes Scholars, and they all have really enjoyed the experience.”

Turtle’s research in England will likely be centered on translational research in cardiac therapeutics—taking basic research on cardiac cell function and relating it to humans. Many genetic mutations have already been linked to cardiomyopathy; typically, these mutations affect function of the sarcomere, which controls muscle contraction. Turtle’s work will focus on these common genetic mutations that are directly associated with cardiomyopathy in humans, rather than animal models of the disease. This sort of project will expand his research repertoire to include direct research on human disease, in addition to the basic science work he has been doing at the UW.

“I’m really looking forward to using the skills I’ve learned in the Regnier lab on this different area of research,” Turtle said.

In addition, the young man from Pullman, in eastern Washington, is excited about getting to go to Europe for the first time.

“There are some unique things about England that should be interesting and fun to learn,” Turtle said. “I may also have the opportunity to travel during breaks, and I haven’t been to Europe, so that could be great way to see things there.”

Though Turtle is grateful for the strong education he got at the University of Washington, he was disappointed to learn that the scholarship program that helped support his undergraduate studies, the Washington Scholars program of the state Higher Education Coordinating Board, has been cut significantly due to state budget cutbacks. The Washington Scholars program had provided what was essentially a full scholarship for Turtle and other outstanding in-state students, but the program is no longer funding scholarships for new students.

“I came to the UW as part of this scholarship for local students, and the funding for that scholarship has been cut,” Turtle said. “This was a big reason why I came to the UW. I likely wouldn’t have come here if that scholarship hadn’t been available.”