Campus News

James Wilkins '04 Wins Marshall Scholarship

Story posted December 16, 2003

James M. Wilkins '04 of Medina, Ohio, is one of 44 leading young Americans to be awarded Marshall Scholarships to study at a university in the United Kingdom next year.

After his Bowdoin graduation in May, Wilkins will begin a two-year program toward a master of science research degree at Oxford University, conducting genetic research on osteoarthritis (OA), and working with Dr. John Loughlin. (Wilkins describes his upcoming research below.)

In the future, Wilkins plans to pursue a combined M.D./Ph.D. degree, focusing his Ph.D. work on genetic studies of musculoskeletal diseases, and finish a residency in orthopedic surgery.

"As a medical scientist, I want to conduct significant research leading to more efficient treatments and more appropriate therapeutic interventions for patients with a particular musculoskeletal disease," said Wilkins. "I want to be able to effectively treat patients in the clinic by addressing the physical manifestations of their genetic mutations as well as the environmental and social factors that may exacerbate the genetic problems."

Several of Wilkins' classes here at Bowdoin have influenced him to pursue this career.

"After taking Biochemistry II with Prof. David Page, I really got interested in genetic mutations that lead to malfunctions in the biochemical pathways of the human body," Wilkins explained. "While I was taking this class, I was also taking the Molecular Biochemistry Laboratory course with Kate Farnham and Prof. Bill Steinhart. This class was a wonderful exposure to the techniques and protocols that are actually used in the laboratory setting, and Kate did an excellent job in preparing her students to be competent and functional while conducting their own research. I worked in the laboratory of Prof. Rick Broene two summers ago.... He has been very instrumental in helping me to develop the analytical skills necessary to take a scientific problem and find a practical way to solve it."

Wilkins, a biochemistry major with a minor in English, is currently pursuing an honors project with Broene on the synthesis of asymmetric metallocene catalysts with lanthanide metals.

Wilkins is also an accomplished athlete, and has been a high jumpber on the Bowdoin Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field teams for four years with a personal best of 6'10". He finished sixth in the nation sophomore year, which earned him All-American status, and he finished tenth this past year. He is a leader on the team, and has been elected captain for the upcoming Indoor Track and Field season.

He is also the guitarist and songwriter of a garage rock band and co-host of a late-night talk/variety TV show.

He has been named a Sarah and James Bowdoin scholar for three years, and was a Book Award winner after his first year. He was a Maine State Finalist this year for a Rhodes Scholarship.

The Marshall Scholarships were established in 1953 as a British gesture of thanks to the people of the United States for the assistance received after the Second World War under the Marshall Plan. Financed by the British government, the highly competitive scholarships provide an opportunity for American students who have demonstrated academic excellence to continue their studies for two to three years at the British university of their choice. The Scholarships are worth about $60,000 each.

Over a thousand young Americans have been awarded Marshall Scholarships since the program's inception 50 years ago. Prominent past Marshall Scholars include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; Duke University president (and former Wellesley president) Nannerl Keohane; Providence psychiatrist Peter Kramer ("Listening to Prozac"); and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Tom Friedman of the New York Times and Dan Yergin ("The Prize"); Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan; incoming Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh; and noted inventor Ray Dolby.

In addition to intellectual distinction, Marshall selectors look for individuals who are likely to become leaders in their field and make a contribution to society. The exceptional academic achievements of the scholars are matched by their commitment to public service, artistic talent, and triumph over adversity.

"The application process for the Marshall was a tremendous learning experience for me," said Wilkins, "and I had an amazing amount of guidance and encouragement from the Bowdoin faculty, in particular Anne Shields and Martie Janeway in the Carrer Planning Center, and Prof. Susan Bell, Prof. Barbara Weiden Boyd, and Prof. Rick Broene."

For more information on the Marshall Scholarships go to

James Wilkins describes his upcoming research at Oxford:

"Dr. Loughlin's laboratory has conducted the largest OA genome wide linkage scan, using over 500 affected sibling pairs ascertained by large-joint OA (hip or knee), and identified six genomic regions harboring OA susceptibility loci, on chromosomes 2q, 4q, 6, 11q, 16p and 16q. These regions have been finer linkage mapped and are being subjected to gene-based and more systematic association analyses. Dr. Loughlin's group has detected positive associations to the FRZB gene on chromosome 2q, to the BMP5 and COL9A1 genes on chromosome 6, and to the IL4Rα gene on chromosome 16p.

"I will focus on one of the six OA susceptibility loci that Loughlin's group has linkage mapped within the human genome. Candidate genes from within the locus will be selected based on their expression profile and known roles in human biology. These candidates will then be subjected to comprehensive mutational analysis and functional testing. If the mutation appears to affect a signaling molecule, the effect of the mutations on the level of gene expression of known targets will be assessed. The effects of the mutations on protein activity and/or mRNA synthesis and stability will also be assessed."

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