A high school student from New York, who is mentored by a faculty member and a graduate student in Wesleyan’s Neuroscience and Behavior Program, is one of the top four finalists for the Neuroscience Research Prize, awarded by the American Academy of Neurology and the Child Neurology Society.
As a recipient of the prize, Armonk, N.Y. resident Ryan Infante will receive a $1,000 cash prize and per diem for expenses at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Child Neurology Society in Vancouver, B.C. in October 2016. He will present his stem cell transplantation research during the Child Neurology Society meeting.
Infante, currently a senior at Byram Hills High school in Armonk, N.Y., completed this research last summer while working with Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, and graduate student Dan Lawrence, a BA/MA who majored in neuroscience and behavior in 2015.
Infante was initially guided by his high school science teacher to carry out extensive reading and research about neuroscience.
“When he first contacted me, as a sophomore in high school, he had already read 12 journal articles and had written a review paper that he presented to his science class,” Naegele said. “He became fascinated by work on stem cell transplantation to repair the hippocampus in rodent models of epilepsy and he wanted to learn more about the types of neurons that we study, which utilize the neurotransmitter GABA.”
Throughout his junior year of high school, Infante and Naegele corresponded over email and held frequent Skype discussions. And last summer, Naegele welcomed him to Wesleyan to conduct research in her lab. Infante, at that time, had read many papers on a method called CLARITY—a new way to make brains transparent—to allow scientists to peer into the center of the brain.
Infante worked with Naegele and Lawrence to collect a large number of embryonic and postnatal brains from transgenic mice expressing fluorescent proteins that light up developing and migrating GABAergic interneurons in the embryonic brain.
“When Ryan came to my lab, he and Dan made careful observations of the gradual clearing of the tissue and the process of making opaque brains transparent,” Naegele said.
Infante learned how to use a 3-D printer to make special chamber slides to hold the embryonic brains for microscopy.
“This was a clever modification of the protocol and with this modification, Dan and Ryan examined the brains and also modified protocols for doing additional fluorescent stains in the intact brain tissue,” she said.
Over the past 25 years as a faculty member at Wesleyan, Naegle has welcomed 10 high school students for a summer research project. Most of them are still in science–either attending graduate school, medical school or combined programs. Among them is Elizabeth “Lizzie” Paquette ’16, who ended up matriculating to Wesleyan and is currently a triple major in computer science, mathematics and neuroscience.
“I am so impressed by the capacity for high school students to carry out innovative research with our own Wesleyan students and I’m very proud of both Ryan and Dan,” said Naegele.
Infante was admitted early decision to the University of Pennsylvania, and Lawrence is working on his master’s thesis, and plans to apply to medical school next year.