|NIAAA’s Steve Lindell, a Red Sox fan, nevertheless hit a home run with Jeter’s Leaders on the tour of the Poolesville facility.
|Photo: Fred Donodeo
While Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees were honing their baseball skills during spring training in Florida, a group of students sponsored by his charity
foundation were at NIH sharpening their science skills. Eighteen members
of “Jeter’s Leaders,” a mentorship program for New York City teens, got a major league introduction to alcohol research by visiting NIAAA recently.
The tour came about through the outreach work of Fred Donodeo, NIAAA’s public
liaison officer. He had arranged a 2003 visit with Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation, which works to keep young people free of alcohol and drugs. When the group recently requested a repeat trip, Donodeo didn’t hesitate.
“We welcomed the chance,” he said. “These are really outstanding kids who serve as peer educators in their communities.”
The group met first with Donodeo and Dr. Dennis Twombly to learn about alcohol
research. Twombly, a scientist in NIAAA’s Division of Neuroscience and Behavior, frequently works with students, volunteering on Brain Awareness Week activities and other events. He also created the popular Drunken Brain exhibit shown at NIH health fairs to illustrate alcohol’s effects on health.
“This was a fun group,” Twombly said. “They weren’t shy. They asked all about alcohol’s impact on the body—everything you can imagine that teenagers are curious about.” He matched their candor with science-based answers regarding the damage caused by harmful drinking.
The students then visited Poolesville, Md., for a tour of the rhesus macaque monkey facility. Hosting them were Dr. Christina Barr and Steve Lindell, intramural
researchers in NIAAA’s Laboratory of Clinical and Translational Studies.
Again the group asked many questions. One wanted to know why scientists study monkeys. Barr explained that animal models are vital for advancing scientific
discovery. In particular, primates have been critical to her investigation of genes involved in the brain’s reward circuitry and the response to alcohol.
Lindell then took the students to see the macaques. After donning appropriate laboratory gear, the visitors entered the facility. Once inside, the students peppered
Lindell with observations and more questions. One asked, “What kind of alcohol do the monkeys drink?”—meaning beer or wine. Neither, explained Lindell.
The animals receive a sugar water solution with 8 percent alcohol.
At tour’s end, the high-schoolers agreed they had enjoyed the visit. One said she wished that science class was always this interesting. The teens thanked Donodeo and the other NIAAA staff for a memorable and educational experience.
Jeter’s Leaders promised to tell their peers about all they had learned on their NIH road trip.