LCCC students studying gene mutation in HIV fight

Posted: January 31, 2012 at 4:36 am

MORNING JOURNAL/JIM BOBEL Lorain County Community College students will travel to Vancouver, Canada, in February to present the two projects relating to HIV. Pictured from left to right in front are Alex Fulton, Aryel Clark, Alexis Shawver, Victoria Soewarna and Elyria Catholic High School Mark A. Jaworski. In back are Austyn Lilly, Eric McCallister, Megan Sheldon, Harry Kestler, Jacqueline Makowski and Connor Anderson.

ELYRIA — A group of nine students sat in a second-floor classroom at Lorain County Community College, discussing a deletion mutation gene that they believe could keep someone from contracting HIV and why HIV wasn’t passed on to a Florida girl at birth from her infected mother.

Those are heady topics for anyone, but when eight of the students are high-school aged, its impressive.

Harry Kestler, professor of microbiology at LCCC, and the eight Early College students and an adult student, are members of a research group at the college. Five of them are preparing to travel to Vancouver, Canada, in February to present the two projects and compete with other college students.

In a little less than a month Megan, along with Kestler; Alex Fulton, 16; Victoria Soewarna, 16; Connor Anderson, 16; and Eric McCallister, 32, will be in Vancouver at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

Other students in the research group are Alexis Shawver, 15; Jacqueline Makowski, 15; Aryel Clarke, 16; and Austyn Lilly, 16.

The second project looks at what kept a young girl from Florida from contracting HIV, when her mother gave it to both her younger and older siblings during birth.

“We figured out that all of the children did get the virus from their mother, so it became puzzling as to why she didn’t get infected,” Aryel Clarke, 16, said.

The group explains their projects with ease, only stopping every once in a while to make sure they are explaining it correctly.

The projects are a part of a “research fellowship” that was created after some of the early college students showed interest, according to Kestler.

“Some of them refused to leave,” Kestler recalled of a day in which they shadowed him. Continued...

The program began with more students and over time the numbers dwindled to the current nine students. Of those nine, only one, McCallister, is a “regular” college student.

“The first time I met any of them (the early college students) ... I was blown away by what they knew, I mean for high school kids,” McCallister said. “I’m really impressed by all of them. They know their stuff.”

He has seen other college students come and go from the group, lasting a day, a week, or maybe a month.

“These core group of high school kids have more determination and dedication than any of the college kids that came through here,” he said.

In February, their dedication will be put to test against students from colleges such as Harvard, Duke, and other renowned colleges, according to Kestler.

“They will be competing at the college level and not competing at the high school level,” Kestler said. “We will see how we do up against the big league players.”

The Early College students chosen for the research group are picked following their freshman year, allowing them to participate in the research group for three years, if they chose.

“At the end of the freshman years, we selected students to be in the program,” he said.

“We have some students drop out because they realize it is just not their thing,” Kestler said. “That’s OK. This is something extra.”

The ones with the program now, he expects to be back next year. Continued...

“These are students that are dedicated and they are here for the long haul,” Kestler said.

By being there, they have the chance to partake in university level research, which is one of the reasons for the program, according to Kestler.

“We have a lab here,” he said pointing out that it is not specifically set up for them, but the whole college.

“It’s really like a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Megan said. “I think I can speak for all of us and say that we are really grateful to get to do this.”

This program has helped her realize what she wants to do once she graduates.

“I know I want to do some type of research,” she said. “I can’t picture myself not being in a bio-tech lab at least once a week.”

“This is a dedication you have to have,” Megan said. “You have to be able to want this.”

LCCC students studying gene mutation in HIV fight

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