Washington University in St. Louis senior Abdullah Kuziez, 21, has received the prestigious Marshall Scholarship, which provides American students the opportunity to earn an advanced degree in the United Kingdom. Kuziez plans to earn a master’s degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Oxford as part of his ongoing search for cancer treatments that are both effective and accessible.
“Oxford offers the singular opportunity to investigate the intersection of my passion for cancer science and synthetic biology,” Kuziez said. “I am deeply passionate about cancer therapy and research, a field which encompasses macro- and microscale interventions, from 100-meter accelerators to the molecular disruption of cancer metabolism. This degree will enable me to better understand these varied approaches and innovate my own.”
The Marshall Scholarship is among the most selective in academia. Every year, approximately 1,000 endorsed applicants compete for an average of 45 slots. Kuziez is Washington University’s seventh Marshall Scholar.
Kuziez, of Ballwin, Mo., is majoring in biophysics and biochemistry in Arts & Sciences and minoring in computer science at the McKelvey School of Engineering.
Kuziez is an Ervin Scholar and a member of Washington University for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity, the Muslim Student Association and numerous other organizations. Kuziez also is deeply committed to the St. Louis community, providing comfort to cancer patients at Siteman Cancer Center and teaching AP chemistry to students at Soldan International High School.
The child of Syrian immigrants, Kuziez also teaches Arabic to local children and volunteers at the International Institute of St. Louis, where he helps Syrian refugees adjust to their new life in St. Louis.
Chancellor Andrew D. Martin said Kuziez embodies the best of Washington University.
“Abdullah is a leader on campus, in the lab and in the community,” Martin said. “He is very deserving of this honor and will undoubtedly thrive as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford.”
Kuziez chose to study cancer for a range of personal and pragmatic reasons. Kuziez’s beloved grandfather died of cancer when Kuziez was in high school, a loss he still mourns. Relatively well funded, cancer research also provides a great opportunity to save a great number of lives, as cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020.
Science transcends borders
Kuziez, a true polymath, also is drawn to the field because it leverages so many disciplines, from quantum mechanics to molecular biology.
“I don’t want to ferret myself away in a single nook,” Kuziez said. “I really enjoy science for its connectedness, the way different fields interact and overlap with one another to tell a greater narrative.”
Kuziez began studying cancer as a high school junior in the Optical Radiology Lab of Samuel Achilefu, the Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Professor of Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine. There, Kuziez first learned the applications of thermophoresis and how to synthesize photoactivated nanoparticles. He also discovered that science is an international endeavor.
“In that lab alone, over 15 countries from all the continents were represented,” Kuziez said. “Science transcended borders; it was a community of knowledge that bridged nationality, language and culture. I realized that international collaboration was part and parcel of transformative research.”
Kuziez also has worked at Argonne National Laboratory, where he researched the development of a carbon ion accelerator to treat resistant tumors, and the Mukherji lab for systems cell biology at Washington University where he explores the biophysical principles of organelle regulation, knowledge that could help treat aggressive cancers driven by organelle dysfunction.
Kuziez’s mentors said they are amazed by the breadth and depth of his academic talents and his willingness to try new approaches.
“To an unusual degree for an undergraduate, Abdullah has a strong sense of how his talents in mathematical thinking can be useful in biomedical research, as both a primary tool to carry out the techniques of computational biology research, but also as a way of thinking about modeling complex systems,” wrote Shankar Mukherji, assistant professor of physics in Arts & Sciences, in his recommendation.
“As the medical sciences are undergoing a transformation wrought by an increasing focus on quantitative thinking and methods, Abdullah’s grasp of this area will offer a unique perspective to the Marshall Scholar community,” added Mukherji, who also holds a joint appointment in cell biology and physiology at the School of Medicine.
“He is kindhearted, decisive and inspiring,” Achilefu said in his recommendation. “He leads by example and shares his talents freely with those who need his support. Abdullah is highly creative, innovative, hardworking and self-motivated.”
After Oxford, Kuziez plans to earn his MD/PhD and ultimately hopes to find a way to modify gene systems to treat cancer. Any solution that does not consider the culture and resources of its users is no solution at all, Kuziez said.
“Who can afford these treatments? Who can access these technologies,” Kuziez said. “I really take a holistic approach to these questions. Growing up in St. Louis as the child of immigrants, I have witnessed how disparities can impact health outcomes. I want to design therapies for a global audience that are equitable for all.”