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BHS Student Showcases Alzheimer's Research

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Only 16-years-old, Elise White - a Junior at Binghamton High School - said she has conducted research which may help scientists find out what causes Alzheimer's.

As a result of her work, she was selected as one of three students from Central New York to attend the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. She will spend a week there competing with around 1,800 other kids from 75 countries. 

The prestigious fair gives pre-college students an opportunity to present their findings and independent research.

Elise's passion for science started when she was a very young girl.

"My Great-Aunt was diagnosed with Dementia and I always wanted to know what was causing that because it really hurt my heart to see her go through such a thing," said White.

She had spent the last year working on her research, which is titled "Behind the Cause: A Novel Role of a Natural Lipid bilayer in Causing Alzheimer's Disease."

"I was stunned, astonished. I couldn't even believe I was seeing what I was seeing," said White, reacting to her results.

While scientists have yet to find the exact cause of Alzheimer's, Elise said it has to do with the clustering of the "Tau Protein," which is found mainly in the Central Nervous System. Researchers have suggested many different ways to synthetically create this reaction, including blood thinners according to White.

"That didn't make sense to me because not everyone with Alzheimer's Disease is prescribed Heparin (blood thinners)," said White.

Elise said the next logical step for her was to figure out what every human has in their body that interacts with the Tau Protein. Her answer was the cell membrane or lipid bilayer, which interact with proteins similar to the Tau Protein on a daily basis.

She used Molecular Dynamic Simulations to see the interaction between Tau and the lipid bilayer to see if it could cause the protein to cluster, similar to how it does in the brain of an Alzheimer patient. Her results were promising.

"I found that this natural lipid bilayer actually causes changes in Tau that are typical of a protein progressing towards an aggregation state," said White.

Changes in Protein

  • More stable
  • More compact
  • More flexible

Elise said her research may be the beginning of a new way to create medicine that treats Alzheimer's.

For her, it's not just about her findings, it's also about inspiring future women to join the Science, Technology, Math, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics Field.

"I really hope to inspire young Kindergartner and 1st Grade girls to believe that they can go and do a similar thing," said White.

Besides being chosen to go to the Intel ISEF Competition, Elise has already won the American Psychological Award, Yale Science and Engineering Association Award, Upstate Dean's Award in Biological Sciences and a $20,000/year scholarship to Syracuse University.

When Elise lands in L.A. on May 13, she'll have one week to present her findings to prominent scientists and Nobel Prize winners, a full year before she even graduates high school.