BioE alum Andrew Kitson ’21 draws from his healthcare and military experience to propel his research in osteochondral tissue regeneration

Materials science and engineering PhD student and recent bioengineering graduate Andrew Kitson ’21 has been recognized by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). The prestigious fellowships are awarded annually to promising students pursuing research-based advanced degrees in STEM fields. 

As an undergraduate, Kitson worked with Lesley Chow, an assistant professor of bioengineering and materials science and engineering. After graduation, he continued on as a graduate student in The Chow Lab, where his research uses 3D-printed polymer structures to aid in the regeneration of the interfaces between bone and cartilage. 

It's a process that’s challenging for the body to do naturally following an injury to knees, elbows, or other body parts where cartilage and bone join, he says. 

“We are trying to get these scaffolds to a point where they can be implanted into the body,” says Kitson, “but then naturally degrade away so that there is nothing left when it’s gone.” 

The NSF GRFP will fund Kitson’s research for three years (over a five-year fellowship period), with an annual stipend of $34,000 and additional support for tuition and fees. Kitson says the fellowship will provide more than just financial support: It will allow him to be laser focused on his personal research interests in regenerative materials by mitigating the financial pressures of finding funding elsewhere.

“Andrew is an extremely bright and talented student who is kind, hardworking, thoughtful, and inquisitive,” Chow says. “It has been very rewarding to see him transition from a student in my class who was ‘just curious about research’ to a PhD student receiving a prestigious research fellowship.”

Before enrolling at Lehigh, Kitson served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years. After his service, he got a job as a nurse’s aide in a local hospital’s emergency department. It was there that his fascination with the human body, health, medicine, and problem-solving grew, which eventually led him to Lehigh’s bioengineering program.

“After my first seminar class with Dr. Chow, I was instantly fascinated by the idea of using materials in a regenerative sense,” Kitson says. “We focus on putting materials into the body that will actually regenerate the tissue and not just treat the injury.”

While the NSF GRFP provides him undeniable support, Kitson says he owes it to Chow for getting him to this point. 

“She's really acted as a mentor toward me, even before I was a PhD student in our lab,” he says. “She tries to steer people on their way no matter what direction they want to go in.”

Chow points out that Kitson’s background—his military service and his decision to switch from nursing to engineering—gives him a unique perspective. 

“It is an important reminder to me that there is a lot of untapped potential in students who take nontraditional paths to engineering,” says Chow. “Having diverse points of view and experiences fosters innovation and productivity. I am very thankful that he chose to join our research group and am excited to see all the amazing things he will do in his PhD and as an NSF Fellow.”

—Isabella Cammisa '22 is a student writer for the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science

Andrew Kitson

NSF GRFP recipient Andrew Kitson is a materials science and engineering PhD student and a recent Lehigh bioengineering graduate. Photo courtesy of The Chow Lab

Lesley Chow

Lesley Chow is an assistant professor of bioengineering and materials science and engineering. Photo by Christa Neu