Embryonic development in zebrafish and the genetic workings of muscular dystrophy: Thats the summer agenda for two Charlotte Country Day students.
Court Haworth, a junior, traveled to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he is working in the lab of Charles Hong, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Inherited Disease.
Megan Lewis, also a junior, is participating in an internship with the McColl-Lockwood Laboratory for Muscular Dystrophy Research. There, she is working with Dr. Qi Long Lu, director of the centers muscular dystrophy research.
There will be a massive range of expertise in the labs where theyre working, said Tom Collins, science teacher at Charlotte Country Day. They are both passionate about the sciences and they are going to be great ambassadors for the school.
Meet Court Haworth
For six weeks, Court will use his science skills to study embryonic development in zebrafish. The process itself is called phenotype-based drug screening and chemical genetic analysis.
I am adding a large number of compounds individually to zebrafish embryos and seeing which ones cause mutations in the phenotypes, Court said. By how it mutates, we can figure out which protein or gene the compounds are affecting, and then we can determine what diseases or things a drug made from that compound could cure or help.
Court was one of 30 selected from a pool of 80 students for Vanderbilts Research Experience for High School Students program after a rigorous application and interview process, said Kimberly Mulligan, the programs coordinator. At the end of his summer experience, Court will present his findings at a public symposium held at the university.
In the research, Court explains that scientists are studying zebrafish because of their similarity to the human genome, among other comparisons. They also develop outside of their mothers, so development is easier to monitor.
Although his studies are complicated, Court said his fascination with science is simple: I love being able to explain biological phenomenons in the world.
His goal this summer, he said, is to discover a potential pharmaceutical drug. He will test thousands of compounds during his internship in hopes of finding one promising compound.
Since I was little, Ive always strived to understand how and why things work the way they do, Court said. Im constantly longing for more information or an explanation.
Courts fondest memory of science is a camp he attended called Mad Science. It was there that he performed his first experiment mixing vinegar and baking soda to create an eruption.
It was really my introduction to how science explained phenomena that at the time seemed almost magical, Court said.
Court said the key to understanding science and being successful in the field is asking questions in class. Science is more about understanding than memorizing, he said.
Meet Megan Lewis
Im a genetics freak, Megan said. I love figuring out how the body works, based on what its made of.
This will be Megans second year interning with the McColl-Lockwood lab researching muscular dystrophy. The disorder, which has various inherited forms, causes muscles that control movement to weaken.
Its an internship she sought out on her own and one that comes with significant responsibility she will be conducting her own research this year.
Megan said she became interested in muscular dystrophy after growing up with the Lockwoods daughter, who has the disease. Theyre the most amazing people, and they want people to learn about muscular dystrophy, Megan said.
But Megan links her general curiosity about medicine to her childhood. At age 4, Megans twin brother had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, said Marguerite Lewis, Megans mother. The form of cancer affects the blood and bone marrow.
Needless to say, she grew up very fast watching the chemo drugs do a number on her brother, Marguerite Lewis said. At a young age, she often would say that she was going to cure cancer when she got older.
Megan said she finally decided science was the field for her when she took freshman biology and wasnt grossed out by dissection.
During last years shadowing opportunity at the McColl-Lockwood lab, Megan said she concentrated on gene therapy for limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, as well as Duchenne muscular dystrophy. She said the greatest research lesson learned was how to work on deadline.
Megan will present her findings to scientists in the lab at the end of her internship. Last year I didnt eat two days before I presented, Megan said, smiling now about how nervous she was then.
Collins advice to each of his students is to not be afraid when you get in there. Just because youre young, that doesnt mean you dont have something to contribute.