SRI Blogs

This summer I worked with Dr. Gloria Eyicel Valencia, an audiologist, to create a study that focused on the perceived hearing of teenagers, and the effect wearing facial masks has on hearing. Together, through online meetings, we created a survey to gather data on local students.

When evaluating published surveys that focus on attitudes toward sound, most of the participants are between the ages of 20-69. And although there are about 26 million people in that age group who suffer from some sort of hearing loss, about 12.5% of children aged 6-19 also experience hearing loss. The focus on adults is most likely because the mild or moderate hearing loss typically experienced in children is easily overlooked. Many teens remain undiagnosed during childhood and experience consequences, such as trouble listening in loud environments and problems with speech, later in life. These consequences are why we need to pay more attention to teens in the field of audiology.

Our second objective in this project was to observe the effect that wearing facial masks have had on hearing throughout the pandemic. With the push to wear facial masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19, some people have discovered that they have hearing loss and rely on things like lip reading and facial expressions to fully understand others. While masks are very important for ensuring the health of the general public during the pandemic, for many they have uncovered hearing issues, making it extremely difficult to communicate. This discovery has been primarily in older people, but what we wanted to determine is if teens felt the same way. I’ve had quite a few discussions with friends who have voiced their opinions on how facial masks impact hearing. The first is that the masks have made it harder for them to have clear conversations and even negatively impacted their ability to focus in a classroom setting. For others, it has been the opposite, with their experience being that masks actually force them to pay more attention and increase their focus in various scenarios. With this data, we will be able to learn more about the teenage student experience with hearing and hopefully shed light on a topic that was overlooked.

The process of creating this survey was not as simple as I thought it was going to be. It required the approval of the high school level Institutional Review Board at The Summit since it was going to be taken online by students. For the IRB review, I wrote a research proposal that contained information explaining the reasoning and purpose for this study. I read various articles discussing the effects of hearing loss in children, the attitudes of teenagers towards sound in their daily lives, and a few on the hearing loss that masks have uncovered to form a detailed background section of the proposal. I developed about four different hypotheses that I wanted to test with the collected data. The survey questions were selected to address these hypotheses. Additionally, a parent consent form was written since a parent or guardian must give their child permission to take online surveys. Once the proposal, survey and consent forms were complete, it was sent off to the IRB. After approval, the next challenging step occurred: recruiting participants. It took about two months to gain over 120 responses including both online submissions and paper copies. The process of data analysis is currently being conducted and the results of the analysis will help determine the next steps of understanding teen hearing perception.

This experience was one that was extremely new to me but was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Dr. Valencia was an amazing person to work with and she made the whole process exciting which only made me more excited to work. Dr. Replogle also played a giant role in helping me through this experience by guiding me through the difficult steps and easing the my stress. Because of the help that they gave me, I have created a wonderful research project, that will hopefully cause more teens to take a deeper look into their hearing. My love for science and research has only grown through this experience, and I hope to participate in future research in the future.

Aubrey Jones is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute. 

Every day this summer I got to eat lunch besides some of the world’s most exotic animals. No, I was not in the African savannah but at the #1 zoo in the nation, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. My project allowed me to sit outside at the Cincinnati Zoo studying and observing the White Lion habitat. I noted how guests interacted with the exhibit, what they said, how they acted, where they migrated. All of this to create a new design for the exhibit that enhances guest experience as well as maintains animal health and well-being.

After a tour of the zoo highlighting future areas of improvement, I chose to address the white lion habitat. The white lions are a rare animal and were gifted to the zoo by Siegfried and Roy. Unfortunately, after the death of the Cincinnati Zoo’s remaining white lion, Gracious, the habitat will need to be adapted for a new species. Based off the setting of the habitat within the zoo, my first major decision was to select the spotted hyena as the animal to occupy this area in the future. The white lion exhibit sits next to the zebra and black rhino habitats along the main loop of the zoo. As hyenas are predators of zebras and are native to Africa, I thought that the spotted hyena would work well in the area for a predator/prey combination.

My mentor, head architect of the Cincinnati Zoo, Dean Violetta, helped me focus on the challenging issues of this exhibit space. We looked at past drawings of the habitat and he helped me understand how to read and look at them. One of the main concerns of the site is the grade of the land. The space is built off a steep hill which causes issues with viewing the animals as well as design challenges involving keeper access to the habitat. Another concern at the site is cross traffic and cross viewing. The site currently only has one way foot traffic on the path and views from both sides of the exhibit. When visitors at either viewpoint look across the exhibit, people at the other view point will be in the view path, which interrupts the setting of the animals. The zoo hopes to provide an immersive experience and minimizing visitors in the view path is an important goal of designing an exhibit.

With respect to all of these challenges, the main focus of each design I worked on was the placement of the holding area. By placing the building in new locations within the enclosure, I created my design by focusing on how its placement would affect guest viewing, keeper access and cross traffic. Through this process of drafting successive designs, I learned a lot about how many different studies are needed to create a well-rounded design for an animal enclosure. There are so many factors that an architect must think about when designing and by seeking to solve one issue at a time, each new designs can be an improvement over the last one.

I learned a variety of different skills in my experience at the Zoo. One of which included learning more about topography. As I prefaced, the site is based around an extremely steep hill and, therefore, studying the topography became important to my study. To understand my site better, I decided to build a model of the habitat. By reading and studying topographic maps, I was able to construct a model that represented the grade of habitat to scale.

Getting to work in the same office as my mentor taught me so much about what it means to be an architect. The amount of collaboration that occurs between the architect and directors of construction, sustainability experts, engineers, etc. was surprising and refreshing. I thought it was interesting and exciting to see the architect’s creativity in his drawings and how he changed them and collaborated with his coworkers to create a final design.

The work I did this summer pushed me to be creative and patient as I researched the spotted hyena and worked to redevelop the space to create a functional habitat. Although my project is at the conceptual stage, I still learned so much about how many different details must be thought through when designing spaces.

Siena Cutforth is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute. 

Many of us experienced the loud chirping of swarms of cicadas this summer. I was able to take advantage of these swarms of cicadas and use them as the subject of my research project. With The Wolbachia Project, originating at Vanderbilt University, I was able to investigate if Wolbachia, a symbiotic bacterium that lives in the reproductive organs of about fifty percent of known arthropods, was present in periodical decim and cassini magicicadas. Dr. Jessica Replogle mentored a fellow classmate and me through the processes of specimen collection, DNA isolation, DNA amplification using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and agarose gel electrophoresis in The Summit’s Schiff Family Science Research Institute laboratory.

Wolbachia is an intriguing bacterium to investigate. It lives in the reproductive organs of arthropods and nematodes. There are four reproductive phenotypes in arthropods that pass the bacteria on to future generations. Feminization occurs in certain arthropods when genetic males become phenotypic females due to insertion of Wolbachia DNA into the insect’s genome. Male killing, where the expression of a bacterium gene causes male-specific embryonic lethality. cytoplasmic incompatibility in which only infected female gametes can develop normally when fertilized by an infected male; and parthenogenesis, which is the formation of an embryo without the fertilization of the egg. The reproductive parasitism result in the spread of Wolbachia through multitudes of arthropods hosts. One arthropod in which Wolbachia has not been discovered, is the cicada.

To determine if Wolbachia is present in 17 year periodical cicadas, we tested fifty decim and fifty cassini cicadas for Wolbachia by screening for the presence of the Wolbachia 16S rRNA gene. We became very adept at DNA extraction, amplification, and visualization. Of one hundred cicadas, one decim cicada tested positive for Wolbachia. While the DNA has yet to be sequenced to verify this finding and identify its supergroup, this new information adds significantly to the field.

I am grateful to have been able to actively participate in a lab environment, especially with the challenges created by COVID-19.  We were able to meet the Wolbachia Project representative Athena Lemon through virtual meetings and she was able to provide us with advice specific to the nuances of Wolbachia. I learned valuable lessons I can use in any setting, such as balancing PCR procedure while simultaneously prepping for gel electrophoresis. This research project opens my eyes to the vast amount of research that has yet to be completed. There is much we have left to learn as a community of scientists, but every new addition swells our wealth of knowledge.

Reagan Sutton is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute. 

This summer I had the opportunity to work under Dr. Christine Curran in her toxicology lab at Northern Kentucky University. I was warmly welcomed into the toxicology lab and learned large amounts of information about the field in a short amount of time. Dr. Curran’s lab currently is researching the effects of benzo[a]pyrene or B[a]P, a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon on mice and their brain development. B[a]P is a carcinogen commonly found in car exhaust, grilled foods, and fires. Despite being a well-studied compound, its neurotoxic effects are not well studied.

Coming into the summer I was somewhat apprehensive about what my experience may hold. I was told that I would not be able to participate in some process in the lab due to the fact that I am not a student at NKU and am not yet 18. I was worried I would not be able to fully experience life in the lab, however, this was not the case. Within my first three days, I was able to learn how to treat the mice for a separate project, the procedures for PCR and electrophoresis, and I attended a lab meeting where one of the members presented her poster for a project. Throughout the summer I was exposed to nearly all the procedures and tests done in both the wet lab and with the mice. I left the lab this August feeling extremely happy with the knowledge and experience I gained through working with Dr. Curran

For my project, we utilized a standard behavioral test, that induces stress on the mice and measures depressive behavior. Right after this stress test, we measured the levels of cortisol in their blood. We compared mice exposed to B[a]P plus stress to mice not exposed to B[a]P plus stress. Those same groups of mice, before stress were measured as a baseline. The groups of mice were compared by, sex, genotype, treatment, and baseline. The test and analysis will be used to suggest treatments and solutions to genetic susceptibility and exposure to toxic pollutants for negatively affected stress regulations or deficiency.

Hopefully, the data will allow us to look closer at the relationship between stress and baseline and between the sexes as well as the relationship to the genotypes of mice we used. Although our data did not show any significant differences, there were some apparent differences between the treatments. Also, because the experiment used smaller sample sizes, and we had larger litter loss than expected, we do not believe that our data fully describes the effects of B[a]P on stress regulation in mice. Starting in September, Dr. Curran’s lab is conducting the same tests on a larger cohort of mice. They are looking to increase the sample size to fill in some of the gaps left by the smaller litter size in my project. Hopefully, the additional results will support my data and lead to a better understanding of the impact of neurotoxins on our well-being.

Parker Bricking is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

Ever since I was young, I have been interested in math because it stimulates and activates all parts of my brain. Analyzing and examining large amounts of data has been an interest of mine for many years. This summer I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Marc Ruben, a Research Fellow in the Hogenesch Lab at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Dr. Ruben uses bioinformatic approaches to understand chronobiology and genomics. With Dr. Ruben, I studied large amounts of biological data. The goal of this project was to analyze variations in human blood analytes, such as absolute monocytes and creatinine. Specifically, the analysis looked for seasonal and monthly variations in which they are more likely to be effective. We used data on 74 different analytes from 1 million patient files from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Emergency Room.

Before I could even begin thinking about analytes and seasonal patterns, I had to teach myself to code, of which I had no previous experience. I read online textbooks and watched many tutorials to teach myself how to use the coding language R, and how to use packages such as TidyVerse and dplyr. Once I felt competent enough to code in R, I began to experiment with the data and try different visualization methods. The process was a little slow while I got the hang of it.

Prior to the analysis, I screened the data to prepare it for analysis. This led the removal of all 2020 files because it caused some skewing in the data. I grouped all the data by analyte and the month the test was taken. Then, based on this data, I found the average ord value of each month of each analyte. Using the ggplot package, I started plotting the data. I produced multiple plots, which allowed me to analyze the data from different angles. The first plot that I decided to use for visualization was a color coded heatmap in which I could compare the different ord values of each analyte by a corresponding color and see if there were any seasonal patterns. I also created a plot of the top 50 most common analytes from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital data, each with their own plot, which also allowed me to see seasonal and monthly patterns.

In the next part of my project, I learned how to use the Generalized Additive Modeling (GAM) package. This is when the project started to pick up. GAMs allow non-linear data to be modeled. GAMs proved to be a very complex part of coding, so I watched a 3.5 hour tutorial on GAMs, as well as completed multiple tutorials to teach me how to correctly fit GAMs. Fitting GAMs to multiple analytes gave me a plot and a summary which allowed me to see if each analyte actually had seasonal patterns and variations or if it just appeared that way. I had to end my involvement in the project at this point because school was about to start. Even though my part in the research did not see a full conclusion, I still learned a lot about two different aspects of science. I learned a lot about coding in just a few months, which will be very helpful to me in the future. Additionally, I learned about analytes, medicine, and data in relation to health care and hospitals, which, like coding, I had no experience. I am very grateful to have worked with Dr. Ruben this summer and I hope to continue this research with him on a smaller scale until I leave for college. This research has sparked my interest in coding and data science, and I plan on pursuing a major in statistics or data science in college.

Nicholas Ciaccio is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute. 

Two years ago, I awoke from my ACL surgery to hear the nurses talking about me.   Apparently, as the anesthesia was wearing off, I did not ask for my mom but instead for pictures from my surgery. The nurses later sent the pictures to me, which to this day you can find in the left drawer of my desk. This summer, thanks to the Schiff Science Research Institute, I had the privilege to continue to explore the fascinating world of orthopedics. I researched the trends of various cartilage restoration surgeries at Mercy Health - Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics in Montgomery, OH under the guidance of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brian Chilelli, as well as research coordinator Ms. Cassie Fleckenstein.

The objective of our research was to make other orthopedic surgeons aware of what cartilage restoration surgeries are becoming more popular and what surgeries are on the decline. This type of research allows surgeons to reevaluate the techniques they choose for cartilage restoration so patients can receive care that utilizes the procedures with the best outcomes. The four surgeries we analyzed were knee microfracture, osteochondral autograft transfer, osteochondral allograft transplantation, and autologous chondrocyte implantations. My part in the project was to utilize the PearlDiver database to extract national procedure data on the four types of cartilage restoration surgeries and categorize the data regarding the incidence, number of cases, as well as the ages of the patients over a ten-year period. We found that there was a statistically significant decline in the incidence of knee microfracture surgeries from 2010-2019.

During my research this summer, I learned about a lot more than just the knee. I also gained priceless real-world experience. Throughout my research experience we had to adapt as circumstances changed. Even though we started the summer by creating a survey to send out to fellow orthopedic surgeons, we adapted and started a new project utilizing an online database instead. Research is not a quick process and learning to adapt and be flexible is vital. Additionally, I learned the importance of spending your time on topics you are genuinely interested in. Reading research articles and analyzing data is a lot more interesting if you are fascinated in the subject and understand the significance of your work. I am very appreciative of my mentors as well as the Schiff Family Science Research Institute for giving me the opportunity to experience a glimpse into my future.

Morgan Riley is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

This summer, I was able to work with Dr. Laura Ramsey from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in her Pharmacogenetics Research Lab. The Ramsey Lab looks at the effect of a person’s genetic code on their response to medication. Genes involved in the response to medications encode proteins that transport and metabolize the medications. Dosing medications based on genetic profiles are guided based on research like Dr. Ramsey’s.

I worked with Dr. Ramsey on her research pertaining to the CYP2D6 protein. This protein is responsible for the metabolization of various anti-psychotic medications, specifically risperidone, a treatment for disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression.  The goal of my research was to analyze the differences between the activity scores of patients’ CYP2D6 proteins from before and after the year 2019. In 2019, a change was made to the interpretation method for the activity scores, which changed many of the scores. The change in the scores could affect the patients because an inaccurate dosage of medicine may be prescribed based on the new interpretation of metabolization efficiency of the protein.

Using the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Epic Database in the Pharmacology Division, I extracted data from patients’ genotype tests and put it into our lab’s REDCap data organization project. The patients that I pulled all had their genetics tested before 2019. The genotype tests showed the alleles of the CYP2D6 protein and whether any of the alleles were duplicated. We used a baseline of 995 patients without failed genetic tests out of a pool of over 2,000. Excel was then used to categorize the data and to add up the activity scores. The activity score numbers correlate to the efficacy of the protein as a poor metabolizer, intermediate metabolizer, normal metabolizer, or ultra-rapid metabolizer. We then repeated the same process of adding up the activity scores but this time used the new interpretation instated after 2019 to compare the differences in activity score between the two periods of time.

After comparing the two activity scores, the results showed that some patients did have a change in activity score which could lead to a change in the dosage of their medication. Comparing before 2019 to after 2019, the number of patients with CYP2D6 proteins as intermediate metabolizers increased from 3% to 32%. The number of normal metabolizers decreased from 87% to 56%. The change in metabolization efficiency means that patients who went from normal to intermediate would require a lower dosage, and the patients who went from intermediate to normal would require an increased dosage. The genotyped patients that would have different activity scores compared to their original test could benefit from this information because it would lead to a more accurate dosage of their risperidone medication.

Although a majority of my research with the Ramsey Lab was done remotely due to COVID-19, it was still an amazing experience. I learned many critical research skills, time management, and organization. I also gained a clearer understanding of the inner workings of a research lab and how all the different undergraduate and graduate students work together towards a common goal. It was great to be working on a project that combined my love of science with my advocacy and awareness of mental health issues.

Lulu Murphy is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

From the time I was in second grade, I knew I wanted to work within the medical field and pursue a career where I can work with others to solve problems while also hearing stories about backgrounds different from my own. Going into my sophomore year, I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend Camp Cardiac, an event run by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. This is where my interest in cardiology was truly sparked. Camp Cardiac opened my eyes to the wonders of medicine and how much of an impact I can have on new discoveries within science. When the research position to join Dr. Quesada’s cardiology research group became available, I became so enthusiastic to continue learning about the workings of the heart. Little did I realize the full impact the summer would have on me.

Heart disease is the number one killer in both men and women in the United States, however, women can present with different risk factors and symptoms that often go undiagnosed. This summer, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Odayme Quesada and an all-female team at the Christ Hospital Women’s Heart Center, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since many women go undiagnosed, Dr. Quesada emphasizes the great need to, "look beyond blocked arteries and examine the health of the microvascular system." Our goal was to examine the number of women with Ischemia with No Obstructive Coronary Artery Disease (INOCA) as well as the clinical characteristics and etiologies of those who had invasive microvascular testing. We investigated what is known about INOCA regarding common risk factors and utilized The Christ Hospital Women’s Heart Registry to identify the knowledge gaps of the condition and spread awareness to providers. Our focus on formulating a generalized classification of INOCA patients based on clinical presentations is significant in identifying the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events so that they can be reduced and result in better patient outcomes.

Dr. Quesada first started this research with a focus on INOCA because, "Women often have chest pain and even present with evidence of damage to the heart, but after testing and consults are told they are fine because no obstruction was found." This, however, leads to nearly 53% of those women who were observed being sent home and ultimately dying as a result of misdiagnosis. Dr. Quesada emphasizes the idea that the way heart attacks present in women is very different than men, but the identifying symptoms for men's heart attacks are widely known compared to those of women. To review the management of INOCA and to define early risk factors for the population, symptoms and the results of common procedures must be evaluated. Causes of INOCA include coronary microvascular spasm, coronary microvascular dysfunction (CMD), as well as epicardial vasospasm. The diagnosis of INOCA is made based on symptoms of angina or symptoms of shortness of breath, fatigue or pain in locations other than the chest as well as signs of ischemia, absence of obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD), and no clinically defined cause for the acute presentation of ischemia.

At Dr. Quesada's clinic, a twenty-page survey was distributed to her patients, and it was my responsibility this summer to input the responses as well as patient chart information into a database so that clinical characteristics and etiologies of female patients with INOCA can be defined. Although data entry may not present as the most enthralling task, I was so intrigued by the stories written in between the lines of the patient charts. I quickly learned the medical terminology that allowed me to further participate in meetings and educational periods. Through Dr. Quesada’s mentorship I have developed an understanding of the vitality of research within medicine and the importance of having a passion for your work. One doctor presented me with the idea that, “The most important thing is compassion. You don’t need the most letters after your name, you just need to be valued by your community.” This concept was the most impressionable to me because I learned that there are so many opportunities to make an impact, especially in medicine.

Lauren Foley is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

When an individual is diagnosed with cancer, it can be a scary, confusing moment for them and their family. They might wonder, where did this come from? How will I heal? How will my diagnosis affect my family members?

Genetic testing can answer many of these questions. Tests are typically performed on blood or tissue samples from which DNA is extracted and analyzed. When an individual receives testing, they receive a report of specific genes they may have related to their cancer. This can guide treatment and display the inherited genetic variations that contribute to risks to themselves or to relatives.

I worked with Karen Huelsman, a genetic counselor at the TriHealth Cancer Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital, to investigate how genetic testing works and who receives it. I specifically studied testing for patients diagnosed with lung cancer.

While lung cancer is highly dependent on environmental factors, genetic risks may still be involved. Mutated genes can expedite the spread of cancer or make an individual more prone to developing it. One notable gene associated with lung cancer is called KRAS. The most common type of KRAS mutation in KRAS G12C, involving a substitution of amino acids at the twelfth codon. This mutation drives tumorigenesis, which accelerates the formation of cancer cells. This driving mutation is prevalent in many lung cancer patients: 13% (1 in 8) of patients with non-small cell lung cancer have a mutated form of the KRAS G12C gene.

If a person knows that they have the KRAS G12C mutation, or any other mutation relating to cancer, oncologists have more knowledge on how to treat the patient’s cancer accordingly using precision medicine. For example, a new drug, called sotorasib, is an inhibitor designed specifically for patients with a KRAS G12C mutation. This inactivates the mutant KRAS protein through an oral prescription medication. Ingesting this is often more manageable for patients than other options to eliminate their cancer. Without genetic testing, a patient would not be prescribed this drug and may have to undergo chemotherapy- a much more exhausting and arduous process.

With this in mind, it is important to recognize the precision medicine benefits of genetic testing on tumors. Through my analysis, I hope to encourage patients to consider precision oncology and doctors to recommend testing. My research suggests that those who received genetic testing have better tools to fight their cancer, ultimately increasing their survival rate in addition to advising their family members about risks possibly encoded in their genes. Additionally, my research addresses inequities in the types of people who are receiving testing for lung cancer. I hope that my research can convey the importance of equal access to testing: all men and women regardless of race or age should have access to genetic testing. We have found that tumor profile testing is being offered equitably by gender, race and age.

Because of my research experience, I am more familiar with how to use medical databases and curate my own data and run statistical tests on real world data. I have a better understanding of cancer and how it spreads, as well as specific inhibitors and growth factors that prevent or accelerate cancer. Lastly, I learned how scientific technologies can identify driver mutations and their associated diseases, and I became more aware of the ethical disparities associated with genetic testing. My data will serve as baseline data so TriHealth can monitor for opportunities for improvement in both testing and treatments.

Katie Dobelhoff is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Research Institute. 

In recent years, a focus on smart technologies and artificial intelligence has arisen in many scientific disciplines, including the field of medicine. With more patients and therefore, more patient data becoming available, new tools are needed to collect and analyze this data in order to improve healthcare quality. Coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, this type of innovation is extremely necessary to improve patient treatment. Over the past summer, I conducted a past awards search on the application of smart technologies to health sciences and medical infrastructure. The purpose of this search was to determine what types of projects have been funded previously by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in order to explore possible future avenues for research. These possible avenues for research are focused on the advancement of artificial intelligence and computer science as it pertains to biomedical research and public health.

I was mentored by Mr. Patrick Brown, the program director of the Center for Intelligent Maintenance Systems (IMS Center) at the University of Cincinnati. The IMS Center is an industry and university collaborative that conducts research on artificial intelligence and predictive data analytics. The center aims to transform data into actionable information, primarily in the field of predictive maintenance, which is a field of study that aims to anticipate machine failure. From wind turbines to semiconductor manufacturing, the IMS Center handles a wide variety of projects. The objective of my project was to determine what types of projects have been funded in the past under grants relating medicine to artificial intelligence and computer science so that the IMS Center utilizes its predictive data analytics expertise for future medical research. Since my project was conducted virtually, I interacted with the researchers on the IMS Center team by joining group video conferences, where each participant would share details about the recent research they conducted and ask for feedback from the rest of the team.

Over the course of my research, I compiled and investigated more than 180 past awards funded by the NSF and marked them to determine their relevance to the work and capabilities of the IMS Center. These relevant categories were determined based on a set of previously examined articles written by the center, as well as certain keywords. Of these projects, around a third were relevant to the capabilities of the IMS Center. I looked at the specific aspect of medicine and health of each award relevant to the IMS Center specialties and categorized the awards using these criteria. In the coming weeks, I will present my findings to the researchers of the IMS Center so they may determine possible opportunities for future research.

Through my research experience, I gained familiarity with scientific databases, especially the database for the National Science Foundation. I also improved my ability to analyze research abstracts as I reviewed each project. I hope my work leads IMS to a new development for medical data analytics.

Jimmy Fraley is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute. 

Have you ever had a sunburn? If so, you know how uncomfortable that experience can be. Now, imagine yourself with a sunburn all the time. That’s the feeling some patients with cutaneous lupus experience every day.

Cutaneous lupus is a very disfiguring skin condition that causes rashes or lesions which primarily occur on the face, neck, arms and legs. Patients can have premature and permanent premature hair loss as well as deep seated facial scars that can’t be fixed with plastic surgery. This disorder affects millions of people worldwide. Yet, we have limited understanding about the pathophysiology of lupus skin disease.

I started my project when I was in ninth grade, and I am excited with the findings that I have obtained through the years. Cutaneous lupus is an autoimmune disease. We know of defects in the adaptive immune system that may cause cutaneous lupus, but we understand little about the involvement of the innate immune system. I wanted my work to shed some light on how the innate immune system might be involved. First, I looked for upregulation of gene expression implicated with the activation of our innate immune system in cutaneous lupus skin samples. To do this, I analyzed several databases such as the GEO database, KEGG, and STRING. Second, I looked for consistency of this difference in gene expression across different groups of patient datasets. I focused initially on discoid lupus, which is one the most deforming forms of cutaneous lupus. Then I evaluated other subtypes of cutaneous lupus: subacute cutaneous lupus and acute cutaneous lupus.

My results supported the role of the inflammasomes in all three types of cutaneous lupus. Inflammasomes are combinations of proteins that serve to fight infection. A specific inflammasome, absent in melanoma 2 (AIM2), was upregulated in active lesions versus non-lesions in discoid lupus patients. This inflammasome was also upregulated in affected hair follicles in discoid lupus patients. Additionally, I conducted a review of literature on the current knowledge about AIM2 in lupus.  AIM2 binds self-DNA, viruses, and bacteria leading to the production of chemicals that facilitate cell death. Its inhibition is associated with lupus in certain mouse strains. As I did my literature search, I found out that there is a lot more to study about the role of this particular inflammasome in lupus. The information was very complicated and challenging, but I am enjoying learning it!

My study aimed at generating hypotheses about cutaneous lupus that can be further tested experimentally in the laboratory. I did my independent research at home mentored by Dr. Christine Chhakchhuak, a rheumatologist at the University of Cincinnati. She helped answer some of the clinical questions I had about lupus. It would have been ideal to do experimental validation of my results in a wet lab, but this opportunity was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, I had an interesting time doing my summer research. Doing independent research is a little daunting but the results are satisfying to see!

Ultimately, I hope that by understanding the pathophysiology of cutaneous lupus, we will be able to develop better treatments, so these patients don’t feel as if they have a sunburn all the time.

Irene Calderon is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute. 

Before the summer of 2021, I assumed my nerves about school were just there because I was stressed. I believed standing in front of my class made me nervous because everyone gets a little anxious when public speaking. However, this summer I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Jastrowski Mano from the Department of Psychology at the University of Cincinnati as we debunked all my assumptions. Dr. Mano examines the cognitive and emotional mechanisms associated with the development and maintenance of pediatric chronic pain. Together, we researched the effects of school-focused anxiety on adolescents with chronic pain. The co-occurrence of chronic pain and anxiety are not fully understood and work towards a pediatric model are crucial. 

Over the summer, I analyzed data from an eye-tracking study done before COVID stopped in person clinical studies. I was fortunate that Dr. Mano had a data set that required analyzing as well as a project that could be performed remotely from UC’s main campus. Before analyzing the data, we hypothesized that there would be a direct correlation between chronic pain, degree of anxiety, and reaction to threat-posing, school-related images.  During the study, the researchers presented multiple sets of images to students who reported symptoms of chronic pain which affected their daily lives. One of the pictures in the set represented a threat such as a student being laughed at by another group of kids while the other showed a non-threatening photo such as a group of people talking. The eye-tracking software measured variables such as duration of fixation and number of fixations. These variables illuminated whether patients were attempting to avoid or obsess (signs of anxiety) on the images presented.

Using SPSS and JASP statistic programs, I organized the data into groups based on presence of chronic pain, anxiety level, and gender. Comparing specific groups, I ran t-tests determine significance and effect size between the distinct groups. Within the program, many comparisons between gender, anxiety level, chronic pain, and health of patients were individually compared. However, because of the small sample size in the pilot study, none of our tests demonstrated significant differences. Further analysis of this data is ongoing, and we hope to complete it soon.

Though the results have not yet been published, psychology research such as this study is crucial to understanding the implications of school-anxiety on adolescents. Since youth with chronic pain and co-occurring anxiety often develop a pattern of school avoidance behaviors, the research will help to characterize the role of attentional-biases, as examined in the eye-tracking study, and its effects on cognitive and perceptual development. So, although my nerves in school are truly just because everyone gets a little anxious when public speaking, it was still an eye-opening experience to learn that the impact chronic pain and anxiety can have on an adolescent stretches way farther than a student’s ability to pay attention in class. Hopefully, screening methods and interventions will be developed to support students with chronic pain and school anxiety.

Ellie Moran is a senior in the The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute. 

I pull into the parking lot at Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics in Montgomery and walk through the office doors for the first time. That is when I realize, I have absolutely no clue where to go from there. After about 20 minutes of frantic texts, an unintentional visit to the clinical office, and a phone call, Cassie appears at the glass door next to the office entrance to help direct me into the research area.

Believe it or not, this moment was the most daunting moment of my entire research experience. Not the lunches with Dr. Hasan and the clinicians and nurses he works with, not shadowing Dr. Hasan through six hours of clinical visits, and not creating a database with several thousand data points compiled from hundreds of different documents spanning the past five years. Just finding the correct entrance on the first day was the hardest part.

Dr. Samer Hasan was my mentor throughout the research experience. He is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulder treatment at Mercy Health - Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center. He laid out the study plan to include me from its inception through completion. During my research experience he was the first person I contacted, and I have him to thank with providing me this clinical research experience.

Another person who I worked with every time I was in the research office was Cassie Fleckenstein, the clinical research manager at Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics Center. I interacted with her just as much, if not more than Dr. Hasan. On a typical morning, I walked into the office (much more quickly once I learned the door PIN) and checked in at Cassie’s office. Then, I’d walk into my own room, containing a monitor connected to my laptop computer on a large table previously used for meetings. If I need files to enter data, I can just walk to Cassie’s office and bring back an external drive with patient data. If I have a question on if a patient survey response, such as if a patient response 10 months post-operative should be included in the 1-year group, Cassie is the first person I ask. Without Cassie, my personal experience would have been vastly different and I have her to thank for using her expertise to smooth out a lot of the issues an inexperienced student may find when compiling a study database for the first time.

The research project I assisted on was reviewing anatomic shoulder replacements using the Altivate® implant. Total shoulder replacements are the surgery patients opt for when more conservative treatment options such as injections or physical therapy fail. In the past few years, Dr. Hasan used the Altivate® anatomic shoulder replacement implant for patients who he judges are likely to have the most success undergoing an anatomic shoulder replacement. Some indicators for success can be age and rotator cuff quality. An anatomic shoulder replacement depends on the tendons in the surrounding area being intact for the shoulder to function. An alternative treatment option may be the reverse shoulder replacement which adds more stability to the rotator cuff region at the cost of a small amount of range of motion.

Before I could do anything involving patient data, I first needed proper training through an online CITI course to ensure patient confidentiality and proper data stewardship. Once the CITI training was done, I was all set to develop the database. This was no small feat and did not happen overnight. Each of the 144 qualifying patients has over 30 different potential data categories, ranging from implant specifications to patient age to range of motion measurements to patient-reported outcome measures. Range of motion measurements and patient-reported outcome measures were taken preoperatively, 1 year postoperatively, and 2 years postoperatively to track patient progress. Not only did I read patient files to find proper measurements, I also needed to fetch data for numerous categories which were in distinct locations within patient records. As the weeks progressed, my database became increasingly filled with names and numbers.

Some days I did not follow ordinary routines. For example, one day I shadowed Dr. Hasan during clinical visits to get a better understanding of how patient records were developed. I was able to see exactly how Dr. Hasan measured range of motion and how patients would take surveys. It was also unique to see the social side of this occupation. A major part of being a doctor involves being able to communicate with your patients in a way that is informative on advanced medical concepts while still being understandable to a typical person needing treatment. During a normal year without COVID restrictions I would have been able to view surgery, but unfortunately, I was unable to due to Mercy Health’s current policy.

My database is almost complete besides adding a few more surveys from the past year and making one final attempt to maximize 2-year response rates from previous patients. From here, the data will be analyzed by a biostatistician and a paper will be written with conclusions on the outcomes of this type of surgical procedure. Hopefully, future patients will benefit from studying the outcomes of these various surgical procedures, and just maybe, I will be the surgeon performing them.

CJ Replogle is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

As I am sure you are aware, the cicadas emerged this summer, and our research took advantage of this rare occurrence. My research experience was at the Schiff Family Science Research Institute Laboratory at the Summit Country Day School. My mentor was Dr. Replogle, the head of the Schiff Family Science Research Institute Program. My lab’s objective was to determine if Wolbachia was present in two local species of the 17-year periodical cicadas, Magicicada decim and Magicicada cassini.

Wolbachia is one of the most prevalent symbiotic bacteria in the animal kingdom, and it is present in up to 50% of all insects. Wolbachia manipulates its host’s reproductive system to assist in its own propagation. The four types of parasitism documented in insects are feminization, parthenogenesis, male killing and cytoplasmic incompatibility. Some insects cannot reproduce without the presence of Wolbachia and in other insects, Wolbachia drives speciation.

To determine if Wolbachia are present in the local species of the 17-year periodical cicadas, we dissected one hundred cicadas, fifty of each species, and isolated the genomic DNA. After we isolated the DNA, we performed PCR to amplify a region of the cicada CO1 gene and the Wolbachia 16S rRNA gene. Sequences of these genes will allow us to confirm the species of cicada and identify the species of Wolbachia.

Our results yielded one positive Wolbachia cicada from the decim species out of the total one hundred cicadas tested! The DNA of cicada #29 yielded a positive PCR product for the Wolbachia 16S rRNA gene. We are still waiting for the sequencing results of the 16S rRNA PCR product to determine which species of Wolbachia was present as well as the sequencing results the CO1 gene to confirm the species of cicada.

It is important to study Wolbachia because insects make up the majority of the animal kingdom biomass, species number, and total population. They perform many important roles in ecosystems and around the globe such as pollinations and links in food webs, therefore it is important to understand their life cycles. Periodical cicada populations have had declining numbers, so it is crucial to understand if a symbiotic bacteria could be influencing their life cycle. More recently, investigators have found that targeting Wolbachia may lead to the control of diseases such as Malaria and Dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitos, and filarial diseases such as River Blindness.

Overall, this was an incredible experience that caused me to challenge and grow my scientific skills. I have learned what it means to do scientific research in a real lab environment, which has prepared me for any research I might do in the future.

Cecilia Hasan is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to work in the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate (RX) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. My mentor throughout this process was Kristi Singh, a contractor through UES. The purpose of RX is to is to develop materials and technologies useful for aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, rockets, and ground-based systems. My project specifically focused on the Nereis Virens jaw protein, a marine sandworm that has a stiff jaw close to the hardness of human dentin. The protein is rich in the amino acid known as histidine, which allows crosslinking to occur when metal ions are present.

The goal of my research was to provide proof that when these metals were added to the jaw protein, the structure would significantly increase in stiffness. To begin, we coated extremely small glass beads in the protein, and allowed a small cylinder of beads and proteins to be formed. We then incubated this cylinder in various metal salts, and tested the mechanical properties of the cylinder. To do this, we used a BioSoft indentation instrument, which allowed us to measure the force required to indent the cylinder. After testing the samples, we used various forms of microscopy such as scanning electron microscopy to view the glass bead, protein and metal ion interaction under a very high magnitude.

The research I conducted over the summer is just the beginning of what this protein could be used for in future applications. The RX team is hoping that this protein could be adapted to work in the field, having the ability to create firm and stable structures with the addition of various metal ions. This could be used to create an on-demand, efficient runway for planes to land and depart or could also be used to repair infrastructure quickly.

Throughout this experience, I gained plenty of useful experience that I will carry with me in the future: using instruments and techniques such as SEM, AFM, BioSoft indentation, a microtester, and many more instruments I had not previously used. I also got to see firsthand how a large research laboratory operates, having to find materials in databases, attend team meetings, and communicate my research to others on a daily basis.

I am extremely grateful to Kristi and the rest of the team at RX for welcoming me into the lab and guiding me through this experience. I am also thankful for The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute and it’s head, Dr. Jessica Replogle, for organizing this opportunity and guiding us so that we are more than prepared to enter a professional environment. Working at Wright Patterson Air Force Base was an amazing way to see how the real world of science functions, and affirmed for me that I would like to pursue a career in science.

Carter Bibler is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.