15 Minutes of Fame / Staples senior an emerging biologist
Ash especially loves biology. The intricate, complex world of cells -- the microscopic molecules that make up our bodies -- fascinates her. Often, she says, she re-reads biology textbooks, because what she learns is "so mind-blowing."
Her Advanced Placement Biology class with Joel Kabak is one of her favorites. So is Authentic Science Research, a three-year program in which students learn to devise unique projects, find mentors, and conduct cutting-edge research.
As a sophomore, she became interested in a synaptic protein whose function was poorly understood. One of her teachers told her about an internship at Columbia University. There, she investigated an epileptic disorder, Glut 1, caused by a gene mutation. Lack of glucose created a brain malfunction, with devastating effects on children.
That summer, as part of a data study, she and two others -- college students at Columbia and Notre Dame University -- examined 80 patient charts. It was the largest cohort ever for the disease.
Through the charts, Ash tried to examine the role played by diet, in terms of seizure frequency and control.
More InformationAbout the series "Fifteen Minutes of Fame" is a periodic series prepared by Staples High School to highlight a student's out-of-school activity that few people realize. Many students profiled are following a dream that leaves little time for traditional sports, arts or other activities through which other students earn recognition, Staples says. The artist Andy Warhol once predicted that everyone would enjoy 15 minutes of fame at some point in their lives. Staples officials say their goal if to provide those 15 minutes for some students during their high school years in hopes it will lead to greater recognition later in life.
"It's a very demanding diet," she notes. "There's no sugar or carbs." The researchers found that the people who most consistently followed the diet stopped having seizures. The regimen was better than drugs, which have side effects.
"Each patient chart is a story," Ash says. "It's fascinating to check the prognosis from start to finish."
The research resulted in a paper: "Deficiency Syndrome Epilepsy Phenotypes and Therapy: Genetic Testing, Counseling, and Treatment Implications from the World's Largest Cohort." It has been submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine, and is being considered for publication.
There, in the list of six authors -- including neurology graduate students -- is "Ashwini Natarajan, Staples High School."
"I can't believe that my name was included," Ash admits. "I'm really glad that my hard work and dedication to the study paid off."
Last summer, she worked at two Yale University labs. One dealt with epithelial protein found in ovarian tumor cells. The other involved a data study for melanoma.
Both labs, Ash says, "taught me how to be professional and work in adult surroundings."
She plans to apply early decision to Columbia. She may major in biology -- but minor in archaeology.
That's a far cry from the science she's used. "I love going to museums," Ash explains. "I've always been amazed at the richness of cultures and artifacts. I can definitely see myself doing fieldwork in the future."
And -- the possible contributor to one of the world's most respected medical journals says -- "I really love world history too."