Mary Desmond presents her award-winning research in Falvey’s Scholarship @ Villanova series
On March 21, Dr. Mary Desmond, professor of biology, presented an overview of her research, which garnered Villanova University’s 2005 Outstanding Faculty Research Award. Her talk was entitled, “Brain Growth in Vertebrates: Chicks, Mice and Humans or How Basic Science Can Lead to Medical Discoveries,” which summarized over 30 years of her published research.
During her career, Dr. Desmond’s research has primarily taken two paths, namely the discovery of pressure driving early brain growth and the role of occlusion, or closure, of the spinal cord lumen to the outside of the central nervous system in this process. Her research has had a critical impact on current attempts at correcting in utero the major congenital defect of hydrocephaly. In a recent longitudinal study involving the medical schools of the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, and University of California, San Francisco, 200 embryos were intubated to release the pressure on the brain. All 200 resulted in normal infant births, an extremely rare 100% success rate!
When asked, Dr. Desmond described her key strengths regarding her approach to research. The first is her creativity in designing methodologies to measure what needs to be measured to prove a hypothesis. For example, her research team was the first to develop special biological assays to measure fluid transport mechanisms in brain expansion. Her second noted strength is knowing “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em,” indicating a strong sense of when continued pursuit of a particular experiment is unnecessary, whether because sufficient data has been collected or further attempts are likely to be unsuccessful.
Dr. Desmond has also been an influential mentor to students, working with over 40 undergraduate and graduate students on various research projects in her lab. Seventy-eight percent of those have become physicians, dentists or veterinarians.
The Outstanding Faculty Research Award, one of the most distinguished honors awarded to Villanova faculty, is given each year to a full-time faculty member who has accomplished exemplary research.
Contributed by Teresa Bowden, Team Leader, Information Assistance; photograph by Laura Hutelmyer