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Senior Arwen Fernandez O’Brien Wins Regeneron Award

Harrison High School Senior Arwen Fernandez O’Brien received a Grand Award at the Regeneron 2021 International Science and Engineering Fair, the largest and most prestigious high school science fair competition in the world. Arwen’s 4th place award in the Biomedical and Health Sciences category places her among the most talented high school student scientists in the world. Student winners earned the right to compete at the Regeneron ISEF 2021 by winning a top prize at a local, regional, state or national science fair. To qualify, Arwen finished in the top 15 projects of the New York State Science and Engineering Fair. 

The link to the Regeneron ISEF Awards Ceremony in which Arwen is announced at 11:31 in the recording

Arwen conducted research entitled, “Phenotypic Behavioral Expression of Different Genetic Lines of Drosophila melanogaster as measured by the Negative Geotaxis Assay & Their Response to Lithium Chloride: A Pharmacogenomics Study,” as part of the Science Research Program at Harrison High School. Science Research provides students in grades 10-12 an opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research and experimentation in a science or engineering field. She selected the field of pharmacogenomics after a family friend was diagnosed with a rare disease and no medications were helping him recover. Watch Arwen’s Presentation

Arwen reflected on her experience as a Science Research student, “Ultimately, science research isn’t about placing at competitions, but about the amazing learning opportunities and experiences that it gives each student. The program has greatly enhanced my researching and presentation skills, which are vital skills to have in both my high school classes and beyond. There is constant guidance, support and motivation in the class from both the teachers and classmates, without which I would not have been able to be where I am today.” 

Q & A with Arwen about her research and winning the Regeneron Award:

How did you choose your research topic?

Pharmacogenomics is the study of individualized medicine, which explores the relationship between pharmaceuticals and genetics. I chose to research pharmacogenomics because my family friend’s son was diagnosed with a rare disease and no medications were helping him recover. The family worked together with a professional in pharmacogenomics to create a personalized medication for the son. It has been ten years since the incident and the son’s symptoms remain under control. This idea therefore presents the future of medication.

Tell us a bit about your Regeneron ISEF experience.

This was an irreplaceable experience as I was able to talk to and share my research with professionals in my field from around the world. I was so happy to have had the opportunity to present my research on this global platform that I had not even considered the thought of placing, so when I found out I had won at ISEF I was speechless. 

How did COVID-19 impact your research?

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in me completing my research from home. I was the first student at Harrison to perform a genetic cross between mutant flies, and had to do so from my living room. Despite the challenge of working from home, I was rewarded with huge successes, such as qualifying and placing at Regeneron ISEF.

 Arwen Fernandez O’Brien - Research Abstract

Research Title: Phenotypic Behavioral Expression of Different Genetic Lines of Drosophila melanogaster as measured by the Negative Geotaxis Assay & Their Response to Lithium Chloride: A Pharmacogenomics Study

Abstract: 1.5 million hospitalizations annually are caused by adverse drug reactions or unwanted side effects from medication. Medicine is prescribed in a manner of trial and error, but varying genotypes have been found to influence the levels of enzymes within the body - which metabolize medications. Most studies research the Cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzyme system, as CYP450 is responsible for the metabolization of many medications. Few studies have explored the relationship between CYP450 and the metabolization of antidepressants. This led to the research of how genetic makeup in Drosophila melanogaster affects response to the same dosage of known mood stabilizer, lithium chloride. This experiment consisted of three parts. Part 1 involved a genetic screening of CYP450 mutated fruit flies to find the most motivated flies. Part 2 consisted of creating a genetic cross between the best performing CYP450 and Trh[01] mutant (tryptophan deficient) flies, and testing these flies compared to the CYP450, Trh[01] and Wild Type flies. In Part 3, CYP450, Trh[01], Wild Type and CYP450/TRH1 cross were administered 50mM of LiCl and their motivation levels were tested to determine the effect of genetic makeup in response to the same dosage of medication. Motivation levels increased, indicating that differences in genetic makeup does influence behavior. In addition, the four D. melanogaster stocks all responded differently to the same dosage of lithium chloride indicating that genetic makeup does influence response to medication. This implies that medications should be prescribed depending on an individual's genetic makeup.