By Christin Senior | December 14, 2023 11:57 am

A brother’s near-fatal fatal injuries from a bonfire accident set Christoper Ngo’s path to medicine — a journey that continues with his graduation after a UCF career that included research advancing NASA’s mission to the moon.

“Growing up in one of the rougher areas of South Florida, I never dreamed of going to college or even studying medicine,” Ngo said, “but seeing the support and compassion my brother received from his physicians and the entire medical team really inspired me to focus on becoming a physician to help heal others.”

On Friday, December 15, Ngo graduated from UCF a second time, with a master’s in biomedical sciences, having also completed his undergraduate studies at UCF in pre-clinical health sciences. Ngo is one of 12 graduate students and 146 undergraduates from the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences who walked in the Fall commencement ceremony on their journey to diverse careers in healthcare and scientific research. UCF awarded more than 6,000 degrees during three commencement ceremonies Dec. 15-16.

Ngo was one of the first UCF students selected for NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project M-STAR (Space Technology Artemis Research) fellowship  — a program that allows students to work alongside scientists to advance NASA’s Artemis mission to send humans to the moon for the first time since 1972.

Under the mentorship of College of Medicine Professor Dr. Melanie Coathup and biomedical scientists at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, Ngo focused his research on protecting the bone health of astronauts, using a nanoparticle that can help mitigate osteoporotic bone loss that typically occurs during space flight. This experience saw him spending his summers interning at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX working alongside NASA experts. 

“The highlight of my experience at NASA was the opportunity to learn from not only leading NASA scientists but other students of diverse fields of study and backgrounds,Ngo said. “Not only was I able to advance research for the Artemis mission, but my work focusing on the bone health of astronauts will also translate into developing therapies to help treat osteoporotic bone loss seen on Earth.” 

While at NASA, Ngo helped establish research opportunities for other UCF students and also connected UCF faculty with NASA scientists who are exploring future collaborations. His mentors at NASA were so impressed with his work that they have invited him to return for an additional 16-week contract next spring while he applies for medical school. He plans to apply his knowledge and newfound passion for bone health as an orthopedic trauma surgeon.

“My goal is to continue to engage in research throughout medical school and throughout my career as a physician,” Ngo said. “I want to make an impact in academic medicine and be able to translate our discoveries into practical solutions for patients.”

Dr. Coathup, a biomedical engineer who specializes in bone health, said mentoring Ngo was a positive experience, calling her mentee proactive, self-motivated and hardworking, and saying she is excited for his future.

“Over the years, I have mentored many students, and Chris is high up on my list of remarkable students,” Dr. Coathup said. “I am highly enthusiastic about his future potential. I expect his contributions and ongoing work will continue to be exemplary, and I look forward to all he will accomplish in the future.”

A UCF, Ngo was the recipient of 2023 Order of Pegasus, the university’s highest student award, and was also a grand finalist in the Global Sustainability Space Challenge 2022, a competition where students from around the world propose research projects that integrate space sciences into global solutions for Earth and humankind.

“One of the biggest goals of the MSTAR program is to promote science and medicine to underrepresented youth to create a more competitive and diverse workforce,” Ngo said. “And that was my biggest takeaway from this fellowship, that even if you grew up in a single-parent household, no matter your socio-economic statuses or cultural backgrounds or where you come from, there is excellence within everyone, just as the UCF creed says.”

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