Vadim Backman Awarded Ver Steeg Research Fellowship

McCormick professor’s innovations have led to new methods for cancer detection

Vadim Backman, the Walter Dill Scott Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been named the 10th recipient of the Dorothy Ann and Clarence L. Ver Steeg Distinguished Research Fellowship Award. 

The Ver Steeg Fellowship supports research and scholarship by a tenured Northwestern professor whose work enhances the national and international reputation of the University. It carries an award of $38,000.

Vadim Backman“Vadim Backman exemplifies the mission of the Ver Steeg Research Fellowship,” said Provost Daniel Linzer, whose office bestows the honor annually. “His contributions to the world of cancer research promise to have a great impact on society at large.”

Backman has discovered new approaches to examining cell nanoarchitecture and molecular events in carcinogenesis. In turn, these innovations have led to new methods for detecting, screening and diagnosing cancer, potentially making it possible to eradicate the disease before the patient begins to display symptoms.

“The Ver Steeg Fellowship is a prestigious honor for myself as well as for my lab,” Backman said. “It also provides a critical but often overlooked part of the early research process: financial support.

“This important funding will allow my lab to pursue early-stage, potentially transformative ideas,” he said. “With support from the Ver Steeg award, we can work to explore these ideas and develop them into more robust studies and eventually into technologies that will have an impact on basic research, clinical medicine and society at large.”

Backman’s research encompasses a wide array of disciplines in the areas of engineering, biology and medicine. He has pioneered the development of new technologies in biophotonics and biomedical optics, utilizing light to understand the structure and function of cells and tissues at the nanoscale. These technologies include partial wave spectroscopy (PWS or nanocytology) and low-coherence enhanced backscattering (LEBS) to “offer non-invasive tissue analysis, depth resolution and unique sensitivity to tissue microarchitecture.”

Backman is the chairman and co-founder of Nanocytomics, LLC and American BioOptics, two startups working to advance his groundbreaking work.

The Ver Steeg fellowship was established and endowed by the late Clarence Ver Steeg and his wife, Dorothy. Clarence Ver Steeg was a faculty member in the department of history from 1950 to 1992 and served as dean of The Graduate School from 1975 to 1986.

Administered by the Office of the Provost, the fellowship is the first endowed award for excellence in research by a faculty member. A complete list of recipients can be found on the Office of the Provost website.