ECBC Scientists Serve as Mentors for Award Winning Graduates
CCDC Chemical Biological Center Public Affairs | June 9th, 2017
ECBC biologist and mentor Janna Madren-Whalley and Harry Salem, Ph.D. stand with student mentee Priscilla Lee in front of her poster on human 3D cell research at the Science and Mathematics Academy Gallery Walk at Aberdeen High School on May 23.
Each year the Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School graduates 55 carefully selected students from around Harford County. The centerpiece of their four years at this magnet school is the Senior Capstone Project requiring each senior to conduct independent research with the help of a volunteer mentor. This year, five of the graduates were mentored by Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) scientists, three of whom won top awards. The mentors attended the academy’s end-of-year Gallery Walk at Aberdeen High School on May 23, where the students presented their year’s work.
Capstone projects are complex and are pursued in the mentor’s laboratory over the course of the entire school year. For example, Priscilla Lee did her project on validating a 3D human liver cell model for predictive toxicology. ECBC has been working on the development of 3D human cell models for several years in collaboration with five different research universities. These 3D human organoids can be used to predict the human response to toxic chemicals and may also help to reduce the number of animals used in toxicology studies. Lee was selected by the academy to receive the Donna M. Clemmons Award, presented to the student who best exemplifies the spirit and purpose of the academy. She was also one of only five seniors chosen to give an oral presentation on her project in addition to her poster presentation.
Lee spent her senior year working with human liver organoids with ECBC biologist Janna Madren-Whalley as her mentor. Under her guidance, Lee exposed liver organoids to toxic compounds, including acetaminophen, and then measured the cell’s response using high-content imaging. Results from her research demonstrated the validity of using this human 3D liver cell model to screen toxic compounds.
As part of the Gallery Walk, all 55 students participated in a poster session to present their research to their teachers, mentors, parents, and friends of the academy. Another SMA senior, Joseph Healy, was mentored by ECBC biologist Christopher Phillips. Phillips and Madren-Whalley both work in the Molecular Toxicology Branch at ECBC. Healy’s research project focused on refining high-content imaging and quantitation techniques used for 3D cell models. He was presented with the Brian Simmons Award for the student best demonstrating character and integrity.
Other ECBC-mentored students presenting posters were Kendall Archer, who was mentored by Stanley Ostazeki, Ph.D., Alex Jestel, and Elizabeth Corriveau; Jack Donna, mentored by Ken Collins, Ph.D., and Terry Roop; and Afsa Simpson, mentored by Stephanie Padovani, Mike Ellzy, Ph.D., and Carmen Adrover. Donna received the Billy Richardson Award presented to the student for best maintaining a creative vision for the future.
These projects required diligence and hard work. Lee and Healy spent three hours in ECBC’s Molecular Toxicology Laboratory with their mentors two to three times a week for the entire school year. Despite the hard work, it was a fulfilling experience for both mentors and mentees. “I had a wonderful time being Priscilla’s mentor,” said Madren-Whalley. “She was always enthusiastic, engaged, and very excited about learning. It feels great to contribute to a young person’s excitement about science.”
The Science and Mathematics Academy was created in 2003 through state funding. A key figure in this effort was Harry Salem, Ph.D., chief scientist for Life Sciences at ECBC, a pioneer in 3D cell research, and at the time, ECBC’s representative to the Aberdeen Magnet School Steering Committee. “I’m very happy to see how far the Academy has come along since then, and I’m truly impressed by the sophistication of the research being done in the capstone projects,” Salem said as he toured the posters.
“Dr. Salem is an incredible role model and he genuinely loves to see students come into ECBC labs to learn,” said Madren-Whalley.
The experience provided by the academy and the capstone project send these graduates to college to pursue their interest in science with a significant head start. “I will be starting college with a lot of confidence,” said Lee, who will enter the University of Maryland at College Park as a bioengineering major in the fall. “I am very comfortable in a laboratory setting working with scientists now, and I know that I want to continue studying tissue engineering. Ultimately, I see myself getting a Ph.D. and publishing in scientific journals.”