Blunt congratulates MU professor on National Medal of Science

Sen. Roy Blunt says MU professor’s boron research shows "incredible promise."
Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., addresses a question during Lincoln Days on Saturday morning in St. Charles, Mo. Blunt congratulated Dr. Hawthorne on the medal he was awarded by President Obama. Maneater File Photo

Sen. Roy Blunt, R- Mo., congratulated MU professor Dr. M. Frederick Hawthorne on Tuesday at the International Institute of Nano and Molecular Medicine in Columbia.

Hawthorne, director of I²NM² and a professor of chemistry and radiology, earned the National Medal of Science Award earlier this month. President Barack Obama presented the award to Hawthorne, the first MU professor to receive it.

“I am proud to honor these inspiring American innovators,” Obama said in a White House news release. “They represent the ingenuity and imagination that has long made this nation great.”

According to the release, the award recognizes those who have made “outstanding contributions” to the field of science.

Hawthorne is currently conducting research in the field of boron neutron capture therapy.

“Dr. Hawthorne has pioneered the field of boron research throughout his impressive career,” Blunt said in an address to the U.S. Senate on Jan. 31. “The National Medal of Science, the highest award the country can bestow upon our scientists, is a fitting recognition of his critically important and innovative work.”

According to I²NM²’s website, boron neutron capture therapy is a cell-selective binary radiation method for cancer, arthritis and evolving non-invasive surgical protocols.

Although his research focuses on colon cancer, it could be transferable to other types of cancer.

“(Hawthorn’s) work has shown incredible promise in developing noninvasive treatments for cancer and other diseases,” Blunt said in the address. “As a cancer survivor myself, I am especially grateful for the treatments Dr. Hawthorne is exploring to help the many people whom the disease affects.”

I²NM² is using the life sciences laboratory of the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center, including small animal facilities, to conduct its research on boron neutron capture therapy.

According to the MU Research Reactor’s website, I²NM² is also using MURR, the most powerful university-based research reactor in the world, to complete the preclinical development of boron neutron capture therapy. 

MURR houses the thermal neutron beam for cell and small-animal radiobiological research. The beam is an essential part of the process used in boron neutron capture therapy.

By injecting the patient with tumor-specific boron and low-energy neutrons, researchers are able to detect the difference between normal cells and cancer cells. The thermal neutron beam then hits the targeted tissue and vaporizes the molecules infected with cancer.

Hawthorne believes boron neutron capture therapy will be ready for humans after it has been successfully used on dogs and small pigs, but first, the institute requires a neutron beam energetic enough to handle large animals.

The thermal neutron beam itself costs approximately $2 million, but with additional equipment the total cost amounts to approximately $6 million.

I²NM² is in the process of seeking funding for the new thermal neutron beam.

During his presentation at I²NM², Blunt also discussed the threat of sequestration currently facing Congress. If Congress does not pass a budget, which Blunt says he does not believe it will, automatic budget cuts will take effect.

There will be $85 billion in cuts in the next 7 months and $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years.

“The right thing to do is reduce spending,” Blunt said at Politico’s post-State of the Union event. “The wrong way to do it is with across-the-board cuts.”

Congress has until March 1 to pass a budget.

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