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Students Glimpse Future in Biomedical Research

Jared Cadiz of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, had a broad smile for a cheering group of his peers, all teenage fledgling scientists, when he won top honors in this year's National High School Students Summer Research Program (NHSSSRP). The program has "opened up the floodgates" for him, says Cadiz. "I now have contacts at universities, and my mentors would like me to come back and work with them in their labs after I get a master's degree."

Now in its sixth year, the NHSSSRP aims to spark students' interest in biomedical research careers. A collaboration of NIH and Howard University, the program is sponsored by NIDDK, the NIH Office of Research on Minority Health, and Howard's National Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP), which has a 5-year grant from NIDDK to expand its education efforts. "This program brings together bright young people and mentors who give them hands-on lab experience. I can think of no better way to encourage young men and women to lend their talents to biomedical research," said NIDDK director Dr. Allen Spiegel.

Jared Cadiz accepts congratulations from Mary Gordon, project director of the National Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program, on his first-place award for his summer project on fecal pollution in Oahu's freshwater streams.

Cadiz spent his summer testing for alternate indicator microorganisms in Oahu's freshwater streams. The presence of certain microorganisms in stream samples suggests that the streams have been contaminated with some form of fecal matter. However, Cadiz explained that Oahu has a "unique environmental dynamic. The standard indicators used nationally by the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency are found in high numbers in our natural environment, so they do not necessarily mean there is fecal pollution in our streams. We have to find other ways to monitor our streams." Cadiz is now a freshman at Chaminade University in Hawaii, majoring in biology.

New York's Keisha Lindsay, who took second-place honors, is continuing work on her research project as an undergraduate at New York University. She became interested in the number of patients at the Voice Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center who were nonsmokers and nondrinkers but still had laryngeal cancer. "We found that they also had high acid reflux, so we are trying to find a correlation," Lindsay explains.

Cadiz and Lindsay are two of the 43 select teenagers from across the country who spent the summer hanging out not at the mall, but in the lab. The students spent 8-10 weeks with mentors in their hometowns researching topics ranging from renal preservation to hydralazine-induced lupus. The program concluded with a 3-day trip to NIH where the students visited NIDDK labs and presented their findings before their peers and a panel of judges from NIH and Howard.

"These kids are very bright and have worked very hard; it shows in the excellent presentations they made," said Dr. Larry Agodoa, director of NIDDK's Office of Minority Health Research Coordination.

During a visit to the cell biochemistry and biology lab of NIDDK's Dr. John Hanover, high school science students don glasses to view a 3-dimensional image of a cell captured by a confocal microscope.

According to national MOTTEP project director Mary Gordon, the program receives up to 175 applications each year. Participants are paired with local researchers — including many NIDDK grantees — who provide hands-on lab experience in ongoing projects. Patrice Miles, executive director of MOTTEP, says many participants who enter the program with a general interest in science are planning to major in biomedical sciences in college by the program's end. Past participants reported that, once in college, "they flew through their science courses while other kids were struggling," Miles adds.

Students came from as far away as Alaska, New Mexico and Oklahoma, as well as seven from the Washington, D.C., area. Dr. Kevin Abbott mentored two local students, Christopher Hill and Maria Duran, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. As a result of their work, Hill and Duran are coauthors of papers being considered for publication by the American Journal of Nephrology (Hill) and the Annals of Epidemiology (Duran).

Abbott, a mentor for 3 years, is grateful for the students' help and for the chance to open doors to biomedical research for bright adolescents. "If I had had a chance like this when I was in high school, I would have jumped at it. It's an outstanding program with outstanding kids," he said, adding, "Anyone who says that high school students today are not up to par hasn't seen these students."

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