Arlington, Va. — Two Chicago high school students have developed a novel treatment method to reduce the negative effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and a new understanding of genetics behind the disease. This research is being presented at the 2012 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Chicago, Ill., Oct. 14 – 18. More than 8,000 attendees are expected at the largest conference dedicated to the pharmaceutical sciences.
Ayana Jamal and Ariella Hoffman-Peterson, 2012 graduates of Niles North High School in Skokie, Ill., represent two of the youngest researchers presenting at the conference. Jamal, a freshman at University of Illinois, and Hoffman-Peterson, a freshman at Northwestern University, worked alongside F. Bryan Pickett, M.A., Ph.D., associate professor at Loyola University Chicago, to complete their FAS research projects in high school.
Jamal's research, which determined a novel way to reduce the negative effects of alcohol on a zebrafish's development, concluded that there is strong evidence that retinoic acid can be used as a potential FAS treatment. While not in the lab during her summers or weekends, Jamal participated in several other activities, including playing softball, writing for her student newspaper, mentoring freshmen and teaching Sunday school.
"I first became interested in doing my own science research with the encouragement of one of my teachers during freshman year," said Jamal. "I'm excited to be able to experience a professional scientific meeting like AAPS, and to be among scientists who conduct this pharmaceutical research every day."
Hoffman-Peterson also conducted her research in zebrafish embryos. She studied the RALDH2 gene, whose function is closely tied to FAS because alcohol competes for the activity of this gene. She looked at the nearby so-called "junk DNA" to explore whether it had an active role in the gene's pathways. Outside of the science classroom, Hoffman-Peterson was on her school's dance team and taught at religious school.
"I always knew I wanted to work in the science and medical field. My inspiration came from my grandfather who was a doctor," said Hoffman-Peterson. "I've presented my research at different student competitions, but this is my first experience at AAPS."