Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Of Interest | Community Outreach | March 15, 2015
Several high school students mentored by Dr. Sunil Ahuja’s
laboratory won at the Alamo Regional Science and Engineering Fair on
Feb. 15 at St. Mary's University.
Adithya Mummidi received 1st
Grand Award whereas Yugena Gunawardena, Mohan Iyengar, and Glori Das received 1st,
2nd and 3rd in Medicine and Health category. The students
were summer volunteers as part of the Voelcker Biomedical
Research Academy and VA Voluntary Service.
Each year about 20 to 25 high school
students work at Dr. Ahuja’s lab and choose projects that fit with their
interests and skills.
Ingale, a research fellow in Dr. Ahuja’s lab, who mentored Ms. Das explained
that each about four
to six students from the lab participate in the Alamo Regional Science and Engineering Fair. The top 2 grand prize winners in each category
qualify to participate in the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).
The other winners have the opportunity to compete in the ExxonMobil Texas Science Fair.
“Dr. Ahuja’s lab has a long tradition of mentoring high
school students and we are here to give back to our community,” Puraskar said.
“We hope this will help young budding scientists to gain a better understanding
about latest advances in the medical field.”
at UT Health Science Center and the VA, the students are able to work on UT or
VA funded grants programs and are mentored by UTHSCSA and VA employees.
Muthu Manoharan, a research fellow in Dr. Ahuja’s lab
explained that the lab is a great opportunity for high school students
to get exposure to sophisticated science.
“I’m grateful for my mentor Dr. Sunil Ahuja, who is
constantly providing opportunity for students (no age restriction) to gain
access to the advanced research work going on in our lab,” Manoharan said. “Dr.
Ahuja has always provided a thriving environment for students to learn and
understand the research in our lab. He has always motivated and encouraged the
students to participate in the science fairs.”
a 9th grade student at Keystone High School, explained that his
project at this year’s fair was about obesity.
is a major health problem and Texas has five different cities that have among
the highest rates of obesity,” Mummidi said. “Finding new treatments for
obesity is a top priority.”
explained that one of the best parts about participating in the science fair
allowed him to interact with fellow students with similar interests and work on
interesting research. He plans to pursue a degree in Mathematics of Science.
high school junior at Keystone High School, has been working in Dr. Ahuja’s lab since
the summer after her freshman year.
“I have been passionate about medicine since I was very
young. I aspire to become a physician someday,” Das said. “My schoolwork and my
experience at Dr. Ahuja’s lab have further piqued my interest in scientific
Her science fair project was on allergies and a gene called TLR4
in nasal epithelial cells to reduce the severity of allergies. Das explained that what sets
this research apart is that it specifically focuses on the nasal epithelium.
“Most drugs are immunosuppressing drugs that target white
blood cells. This is what causes the side effects,” she said. “Experiments that
directly target receptors on nasal epithelial cells can lead to safer drugs.”
Das believes that other high school students in San Antonio
who are interested in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
career, should participate in fairs like this.
“The opportunity to display my research and communicate with
professional scientists is immense. Conducting experiments and analyzing data
are very laborious processes,” Das said. “As rewarding as winning prizes are,
my favorite part of competing in fairs is showing the hard work that I put in.
The feedback I get reminds me of why I do research in the first place.”
Iyengar, is an 11th grader at Keystone High School and his project
was about the genetic information of lung transplant patients.
transplants are a very significant method of prolonging the lives of people who
have suffered organ failure,” Iyengar said. “The possibility of predicting
the outcome of a transplant, using tests on differentiated gene expression,
following the transplantation procedure can serve as a possible alternative
from doctors having to guess how a patient will react to a transplanted organ.
This could allow doctors to prolong the lives of recipients by being able to
more effectively create plans for treatment.”
Iyengar believes that one of the
reason that the students from Dr. Ahuja’s lab did so well was because of the
opportunity to work with real data.
“I would definitely do
science fair again because the work was definitely worth the experience of
working in a real lab with actual data from lung transplant patients,” Iyengar
said. “It was a great opportunity for me to actually perform research on a
topic that is very significant and has great medical implications.”
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