Hard work paying off for Duerk in field of research
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
By Mark McGee
Hard work paying off for Duerk in field of research

It’s often said there are not enough hours in a day. Don’t try to sell that idea to Lipscomb University student-athlete Brittany Duerk.

Duerk doesn’t have any morning classes this spring. And if she was like most college students she would be sleeping late each morning, but she is not like most college students.

Instead of sleeping until 10 a.m. she gets up early and spends her mornings in the lab doing research on drug delivery systems.

And, oh yes, she also has spent the past four years playing for the Lipscomb Lady Bison basketball team where she finished her career with 500 points and 500 rebounds. And then there is track where she throws the javelin. At times she might also be found working the concession stands for either softball or baseball.

“I balance it pretty well,” Duerk said. “I am very structured so every minute of my day is pretty much planned out from the time I wake up.

“I make lots of list. I am one of those people who checks off things. If I wanted to do something in college I have made it happen.”

Her hard work has paid off. She has been accepted into the Lipscomb College of Pharmacy in addition to a doctoral program at Vanderbilt. She will spend three more years at Lipscomb, three-to-four years at Vanderbilt and then return to Lipscomb for one more year.

“It is called the dual PharmD/PHD program,” Duerk said. “It is a collaboration between the Lipscomb College of Pharmacy and Vanderbilt’s Pharmacology department.”

Lady Bison basketball coach Frank Bennett wasn’t surprised that Duerk’s career will be based on research. All of his players took a test to determine the profiles of the players.

“She is very self-motivated,” Bennett said. “She worked on her own to get better. If she missed a meeting or a scouting report you could count on her being in the office to work on her own. She stays on top of things.

“In the classroom she has always been a top student. She just loves learning things. We did some work with a consultant on psychological profiles and her category was `scientific-professional’. That is just part of who she is.”

Fighting cancer in the lab

Next week Duerk will be in San Diego, Calif., where she will present a poster to the American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition. It is the second time during the 2011-12 academic year that she has addressed the group. In the fall she presented a poster in Denver.

Her subject is deals with drug delivery to cancerous tumors.  Working with Dr. John Smith, a Lipscomb chemistry professor, Duerk spends several hours each morning in the lab. The work may be paying off. Based on results from last week Duerk is optimistic that the research has resulted in a positive result.

“I enjoy applying things I have learned through classes to bigger problems,” Duerk said. “I want to really try to solve something that could benefit others.

“I really like drug delivery systems. That is what I have been focusing on recently with a drug linker peptide model to deliver metal-based, anti-cancer drugs directly to tumor cells.

“We are trying to take drugs that are already on the market that are very effective against tumors and attach them to a peptide that has receptors to carry it just to the tumor.”

Duerk is in the lab each day by 8 a.m. and works until time for class. In June she will do research through Vanderbilt’s Summer Scholars program under the direction of Dr. Susan Mercer, who is also an adjunct professor at Lipscomb.

“I absolutely love research,” Duerk said. “I enjoy the time I get to spend thinking out the different issues I have and trying to solve them.

“I enjoy being challenged. It is really rewarding when something works. Hopefully, we have had our first success. We are sending off samples of elemental analysis and doing everything we can to get it published.”

Chemistry has been a good mix

Like many successful scholars Duerk was influenced by others. Her chemistry teacher at Auburn High School in Auburn, Ala., sparked Duerk’s interest in the sciences.

“It is so complex,” Duerk said. “It amazes me that God put everything here. Figuring out piece-by-piece how it all fits together just fascinates me.”

Her parents always taught her to do her best, no matter what the task. Her mother was a track standout at Auburn University and her father played briefly as a walk-on for the football team.

“Our family time is to go to the gym together when I am home,” Duerk said. “They always taught me if I am going to do something then put all of your time and energy into it and do the best I can.”

Duerk is personable, someone who usually has a smile on her face. She thinks that her plans in the area of pharmacy will provide her with the best of two worlds - the research she loves and the chance to work with people, especially patients in a hospital setting.

“I hope to do research for awhile and then go into a teaching setting,” Duerk said. “Working at a facility like Vanderbilt Medical Center would give me the opportunity to work in the labs and still keep my pharmacy skills up to date by doing hospital rounds twice a week.

“I do love the interaction with the patients that pharmacy gives you. But research is so fascinating I want to continue with that for awhile.”

Dual challenges on the court, field

Duerk has exhausted her eligibility in basketball, but she could compete one more year with the track team.

Duerk’s status as a dual-sport athlete is a rarity on the NCAA Division I level. Two other Lady Bison basketball players, Anna Bowers and O’Neisha Smith, also compete for the track team.

“Brittany is a terrific athlete, and more importantly, a terrific person,” Lipscomb track coach Bill Taylor said. “She fits our team culture and the unique culture of Lipscomb University.  She gives her best at everything she does and has a wonderful attitude.  We love having her as a part of our team.

"Brittany is also a great athlete and has shown that being a successful dual sport athlete here is not only possible, it is fun.  She led the way for all of our basketball-track women to cross over after the basketball season.  Those women have made a huge impact on our women's outdoor track team.”

Taylor also is proud of the academic performances of his track and cross country athletes. He points to Duerk as a major contributor to the academic rankings of the track team.

"Like our whole track & field team, Brittany takes her academics very seriously and contributes to our teams academic achievement in the Atlantic Sun and nationally,” Taylor said “She is an incredible example of what a Lipscomb Student-Athlete is.”