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Stella Boyle Smith Trust Summer Science Scholar Recognition

Stella Boyle Smith Trust Summer Science Scholar Recognition

In Thursday morning Middle and Upper School Chapel, we celebrated the four seniors who were awarded the opportunity to work as a part of the Stella Boyle Smith Trust Summer Science Scholars Program. The four students who represented Episcopal were: Logan Carney, Caroline Harrelson, Jed Johnson, and Robert Shannon. These students presented their experience to the school community, highlighting the work they participated in and the lessons they learned.

Logan talked to the community about his time at UAMS, working in the Radiation Oncology Research Department. Logan explained his work collecting data on the protein named Zinc Finger 30, or Znf30 and had this to say about the process, "The protein has never been studied before, and its location on the DNA repair protein pathway is currently unknown along with its function as well. In order to pinpoint the location of Znf30 on the pathway, I conducted a plethora of laser microirradiation experiments in which I would damage a cell using a laser microscope, recording the recruitment. As you can see in the PowerPoint slide, damage is done here (arrow indicates where) and recruitment can be seen through the bright green that results. The znf30 has GFP, green fluorescent protein, attached to it, causing it to light up green like that. Along with microscope work, I also completed many mini-preps, western blots, and began work on creating znf30 knockout cells. Overall, my experience at UAMS was phenomenal, and I gained great insight into the medical research community."

Caroline spoke about her time at Arkansas Children's Hospital and the Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute. She went in to explain her shadow experience in the NICU, PICU, general surgery, and the Cardiovascular Operating Room. "When I was not shadowing, I was working on my research project in the pulmonary office. With the help of my mentor, Dr. Agarwal, I collected data on the Utilization of Health Care Resources in Children Requiring Chronic Invasive Ventilation at Home. My project was focused on using information on thirty-six patients who were discharged on home ventilators in order to find ways to decrease the length of stay in the hospital and reduce the cost of these hospital visits. Data that we collected on these patients included demographic information (like gestational age and birth weight), number of readmissions, and their final outcome. We then entered this data into an online program that analyzed all of the data. From these thirty-six patients, we were able to conclude that the majority of patients were admitted due to a lung disease, specifically ones that are due to prematurity. From this data, I also found that many patients were readmitted up to thirteen times and the average length of stay before being discharged was over 200 days. In analyzing the data, we concluded that ventilator dependent children have significant resource utilization.", explained Harrelson.

Jed informed the community on his summer work in the Cancer Institute at UAMS. He explained that the projects he worked on sought to find lasting treatments for patients with lymphoma. He went on stating that, "Lymphoma is a cancer that affects one's immune cells. Dr. Kendrick's lab worked with Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) – the most diagnosed form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in the US. With the current standard of treatment, patients with the aggressive form of DLBCL only have about a 50% survival rate after 5 years; thus, the purpose of the research project is to discover a more effective treatment for patients with DLBCL. For everyone who has had the joy of taking Mr. Compton's biology class, you will know the central dogma. The central dogma is the process in which DNA provides the instructions to make proteins, the building blocks of life. In DLBCL, certain genes in the DNA have mutated and are over expressed, causing the cancer cells to reproduce rapidly and become nearly immortal. The project's goal is to block transcription of these pro-survival genes by taking advantage of a special structure DNA can assume, called a G-quadruplex. DNA is a double-stranded helix that contains four different base-pairs, and when DNA has multiple runs of guanines in a particular order, a G-quadraplex has the potential to form. This large, bulky structure has the capability of blocking transcription of DNA, so the project seeks to find compounds that can strengthen the G-quadruplex, in turn hoping to regulate the cancer-causing genes. In the lab, I screened about 1,500 small compounds to test their ability to strengthen the G-quadruplex. Roughly 2% of the tested compounds appeared to do so. After this initial screening, I worked with some of these compounds in live cancer cell lines at different concentrations to verify if transcription of the genes were actually decreased due to the presence of the compound."

Robert talked about his eight-week internship at the Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute where he studied fat tissue surrounding blood vessels. He explained that "after arriving at the lab, the project was still in its beginning phases, so my objective for the eight weeks I would work there was to develop a set protocol for culturing and isolating from mouse aorta. This protocol would be used in the future to test the hypothesis that maternal high fat diets lead to alterations in offspring's bodily functions later in life. Using cleaned mouse aorta, cell samples were grown in a collagen matrix known as Matrigel, with cell food and growth factors for specific cell types. After this technique was proven to yield only a small number of cells, we decided to look for a new method. Using a research site known as PubMed and my mentor's knowledge of growing cells in culture dishes, we decided to remove the Matrigel from the dishes and use only cell food known as media. Initially, we demonstrated that the cells could be grown in Matrigel from mouse aortas with the appropriate cell food and growth factors present. Using 96-well plates, there were not enough cells to move on to further stages, and still when we moved to 24-well plates there were still not enough. Finally, using bigger plates and the new strategy our cells propagated even further, but we still had some difficulty with keeping the mouse aortas fixed in place."

Overall, each one of these scholars had positive and encouraging things to say about their experiences and encouraged their underclassmen peers to consider taking advantage of this scholarship opportunity. Way to go, Wildcats!