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Expanding Science Learning with Experience

Contributed by Caroline Desler ’14


Published:

Learning happens every day, and for some students that learning begins in a classroom at Bishop O'Dowd High School and continues through a summer internship.  From sequencing genomes to studying childhood cancers, the opportunities are exciting and gratifying.

You don't need to be a scientist to recognize the impact of the human genome sequencing efforts that have transformed modern science and the profound role that our genetic makeup plays in the identification of human traits and diseases. What was once a billion dollar, decades long endeavor is now a more efficient and financially feasible task thanks to the advances that developed next generation sequencing mechanisms. 

​O'Dowd's Amy Mao ’15 played a big part in these advances this past summer, working as a summer intern at Personalis, a biotechnology company in Menlo Park. According to Amy, Personalis sequences and interprets DNA while following a multidisciplinary procedure that involves both scientific and medical professionals. Amy worked alongside mentors in laboratories as she "received tissue samples, extracted its DNA and RNA, and then followed further steps to convert it into a sequence-able format--a process referred to as library construction." This “library” is a compilation of DNA and RNA molecules whose genetic information tapered into a list of proteins that could be analyzed and compared between tissues to develop therapeutic treatments.

Amy noted the information learned last year in Mr. Newman's biotech unit of AP Biology proved handy, as she felt prepared to pipette solutions in the lab and apply her knowledge of scientific procedures. Her experience at Personalis, coupled with her science education at O'Dowd, fueled Amy’s excitement and is preparing her to pursue a future in medicine.

Sebastian Hurtado ’15 explored the world of scientific research this summer as a part of the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute’s (CHORI) student internship program. Funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and paired with pediatric surgeon Dr. Wendy Su as his mentor, Sebastian studied pancreatic neoplasms in children. Pancreatic neoplasms are very rare cancerous malignancies, comprising only 0.2 percent of all pediatric malignancies. Sebastian notes, “Pediatric cases result in much better prognoses than in adults. This may be the case for several reasons, including lifestyle choices that can act as risk factors, tumor biology and the overall ‘youth factor’ of a fresher immune system.”

Sebastian’s work involved browsing through Children’s Hospital databases to find records of patients who have suffered from the disease over the past 20 years, along with analyzing literature from cancer centers globally, ranging from New York to Italy. “Our overarching goal was to create a body of data and analyze trends within that data so that physicians would be able to offer more informed, evidence-backed prognosis statistics to families after news of their child’s pancreatic cancer surfaced.” In the end,  Sebastian and his mentor did just that, as they categorized the rate of occurrence of each tumor type and identified correlations between tumor type, age, race and gender. All of Sebastian’s hard work and research paid off as he presented a 15-minute oral presentation at CHORI’s final summer symposium before dozens of prestigious doctors and scientists in the audience.

Thriving within this environment at Children’s Hospital, Sebastian gained an appreciation for what an integral part medicine plays in our society, and how bright the future is for human health. As he enters his final year at O’Dowd, Sebastian looks forward to implementing the research and analytical skills that he acquired this summer into his academic life, particularly as he takes AP Biology.

Bishop O'Dowd High School
9500 Stearns Avenue
Oakland, CA  94605
(510) 577-9100
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