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Vol. LVIII, No. 15
July 28, 2006

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High School Scientist Sangha Wins Multiple Awards

When 17-year-old Harpreet Sangha went to work in a science laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) a year ago she was hoping to gain valuable hands-on research experience. She had no idea her work would eventually lead to multiple trips to science fairs — both state and national — numerous awards and more than $12,500 in scholarships and prizes.

Last summer, Sangha — a high school senior who has always had an interest in science, specifically neuroscience, and has always wanted to be a doctor — decided to follow her interests and contacted the UAF about opportunities for working in a neuroscience laboratory. She particularly wanted to work alongside a medical scientist on a research project.

Seventeen-year-old Harpreet Sangha went to work in a science laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) a year ago. Her work, part of UAF’s Alaska Basic Neuroscience Program, which is supported by NINDS and funded through a specialized neuroscience research program, has already garnered numerous awards and more than $12,500 in scholarships and prizes.

She was put in touch with Dana Greene, a graduate student working with Dr. Abel Bult-Ito, an associate professor in the department of biology and wildlife at UAF, on construction of an animal model for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Greene soon became Sangha's mentor.

"I went into Dana's lab completely clueless," said Sangha. "The most I knew about OCD was that it stood for obsessive compulsive disorder. Little did I know that I would be involved in validating an animal model for the disorder. Dana helped me progress through various stages of the scientific research process."

Sangha's project, titled "The Role of Serotonin Pathways in Mouse Compulsive-Like Behavior: Implications for the Study of Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder," involves studying the brains of mice to learn about the neural mechanisms that may be linked to OCD.

This work is part of UAF's Alaska Basic Neuroscience Program (ABNP), which is supported by NINDS and funded through a specialized neuroscience research program (SNRP) grant. The ABNP — one of 12 SNRPs funded by NINDS — is also supported by NIMH and NCRR. SNRPs seek to promote and enhance neuroscience research at minority institutions.

"The brain is just a fascinating structure that remains the biggest mystery to everyone," said Sangha. "It will absolutely be mind-blowing if I can one day put the puzzle together for a few, maybe even just one, of the neurological disorders."

Sangha first presented her work at the Alaska State High School Science Symposium in Fairbanks, where she placed second in the preliminary round and first overall, winning scholarship money and an all-expense-paid trip to Albuquerque for the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

Next she competed in Anchorage in the Alaska Science and Engineering Fair — an Intel-affiliated showcase for Alaskan school students in grades K-12. She placed second and won an opportunity to present at Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Indianapolis.

From Anchorage she presented at the Albuquerque symposium, a program sponsored by the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force that promotes original research and experimentation in science, engineering and mathematics at the high school level. Sangha won second place which, in addition to scholarship money, included being named an alternate to the London Youth Science Forum in England. At her final competition, the ISEF — the world's largest pre-college celebration of science — Sangha won a $500 award from the American Psychological Association.

In addition to taking Advanced Placement physics next year at West Valley High School, Sangha — now a senior — will study science at UAF because she has already exhausted the biological science class offerings at West Valley. She will also keep working in Bult-Ito's lab and continue her science fair run — adding the Siemens-Westinghouse Competition and Intel Science Talent Search to her list of next year's contests.

Upon graduation next year, Sangha plans to enroll in an accelerated 6- or 7-year B.A./M.D. program where she will major in neuroscience. "Although I want to be a physician, I'd still like to keep conducting research on the side. I don't want to confine myself to just laboratory-based research, because I absolutely love interacting with people and I love being able to apply what I learn," said Sangha. "I think being a physician will allow me to get the best of both worlds."

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