PRINCETON — Dr. Mary Bouxsein was once a student at Princeton High School, unsure of what she wanted to do when she grew up or where her life path would lead her.
Although the uncertainty hung over her, she embarked on a journey in which she followed opportunities that interested her, made her happy, and kept her feeling fulfilled.
That journey led her to earn a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and onto Harvard Medical School, where she found passion in a career that merges engineering and medicine.
Bouxsein has been a researcher in osteoporosis, studying preventative ways against the devastating disease taking a toll on the older generations.
Throughout her career, Bouxsein has received numerous academic honors, authored or co-authored more than 250 articles and papers, held numerous leadership roles in her profession, and has been an active member in her community.
She’s served as a faculty member at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School.
Bouxsein was selected to be the second person inducted into the PHS Academic and Career Hall of Fame and was honored on Friday, Sept. 7, in a ceremony at the school.
During her address to students, Bouxsein encouraged them to go after their interests and passions.
“Don’t let anything hold you back. Don’t let being from a small town in the middle of Illinois hold you back, because you can do it,” she said.
Bouxsein also reminded students it’s OK not to have life’s plan all figured out at once. Just as long as one remembers to listen to their heart and find a tribe of people who support them, they will find a way, she said.
After graduating from PHS in 1982, Bouxsein studied at the University of Illinois, where she found her way in a big place, and earned a bachelor of science degree in general engineering and a bachelor of arts in economics.
Just before graduation, she came to the realization that what she thought she wanted to do in life wasn’t something she saw herself staying happy at in the long run. So she redirected her path and went onto graduate school at Stanford University.
It was there she got the opportunity to work on a project that studied the effects of exercise on the skeleton, which fueled her love for engineering and medicine and led her to new opportunities at Harvard Medical School.
“Being able to work at the boundary of engineering and medicine is something that excites me even today,” she said.
In her research, Bouxsein’s prime focus has been on finding ways to prevent bone loss and fractures.
Her motivation is her father, Francis Bouxsein, who passed away at 82 —four months after breaking his hip from a fall. Before that, he’d been the kind of guy who went to work every day. Some may remember him and his wife, Alfreda, who owned and operated Wind Power Electric in Princeton for many years.
“That keeps me going every day to try to do better by this disease,” Bouxsein said.
She considers one of her greatest career accomplishments to be a project she conducted through NASA that led to a preventative osteoporosis drug now being considered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
With ongoing studies on astronauts who are subject to rapid bone loss while on space missions due to microgravity, Bouxsein was able to test a drug on mice that went on board a 12-day space mission, and the results ended up being “remarkable,” as Bouxsein puts it.
The mice that were administered the drug came back with no bone loss, which is considered a major breakthrough for this drug being geared toward postmenopausal women.