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Dual enrollment student’s drug delivery research is third at international science fair

Research on a better way to deliver chemotherapy drugs to reduce side effects earned a dual enrollment student at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and Bob Jones High School in Madison third place in the material science category of the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair 2021 (ISEF).

Kailyn Grant, a rising senior at Bob Jones as well as a student at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System, was among 1,800 international student contestants overall at the fair.

“There were around 60 excellent global entries in my category, and I wasn’t certain if my entry would even make the cut,” Grant says.

Dual enrollment allows students to receive UAH credits while still in high school. Students must receive permission from their parent or guardian, high school counselor and principal to take dual enrollment courses. Grant credits her dual enrollment education at UAH with helping her win.

“I was in school when I found out and later that day, the fact sank in that I was actually declared a grand award winner,” she says. “It’s incredibly humbling to know that your work has been acknowledged at this prestigious international competition. Needless to say, I am simply elated and very grateful for this recognition.”

Titled “Targeted Core-Shell Nanoassembly Composed of a Mesoporous Silica Core, Liposome Shell, and GE11 Peptide as a Drug Delivery Nanocarrier,” her project was selected to advance at both the North Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair and the Alabama Science and Engineering Fair (ASEF).

“At the ASEF level, I won two awards, the best of fair award and the first place in category award, before advancing to the ISEF level,” says Grant, who was advised at UAH by Dr. Hapuarachchige Surangi Jayawardena, an assistant professor of chemistry.

“Kailyn is an intelligent, hard-working student who has reaped the rewards of her hard work,” says Dr. Jayawardena. “I am her research advisor and I also funded her research. She carried out the research in my lab under the direct supervision of myself and my graduate student Kavini Rathnayake.”

Grant’s explored delivering therapeutic drugs by using a core-shell nanoassembly that encapsulates doxorubicin-loaded mesoporous silica nanoparticles.

“My preliminary research has proven that this delivery method is an effective alternative drug delivery system and would not harm the healthy cells surrounding the cancerous cells,” she says.

Dr. Jayawardena’s laboratory at UAH is equipped with a Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy machine and a dynamic light scattering machine, both necessary to Grant’s research.

“Additionally, I also used a UV-visible spectrophotometer to track the progress of the nanocarriers and confirmed that they had been correctly made,” Grant says. “I used the data from these machines to create and develop graphs and charts for research and data analytical purposes.”

While her research was primarily focused in the materials science arena, Grant says her UAH education in probability and statistics was essential.

“The analysis for my research required a keen understanding of statistics. I was able to apply the knowledge learned by creating the right type of analysis that is essential for my project paper,” she says. “Dr. Jayawardena’s guidance during the ISEF competition was invaluable and I appreciate everyone at the Department of Chemistry for their support in enabling me to independently complete my research.”

Her experience at UAH has enabled her to gain valuable insights into university campus life in general, says Grant, who plans to major in biomedical engineering in college.

“The interaction with other undergrad students and the classes conducted by university professors have been beneficial,” she says. “And I truly feel that my positive experience as a dual-enrolled student at UAH has given me the confidence to embrace university life during the next chapter of my learning journey.”

UAH typically admits 35-55 dual enrollment students every semester, says Austin McDonald, associate director of admissions. Most local high schools inform their students about UAH’s dual enrollment opportunities, and the university attends dual enrollment college fairs as well as sponsoring information sessions. Interested parents and students can also email dual.enrollment@uah.edu.

“Dual enrollment allows students to gain real college experience before graduating high school,” McDonald says. “They can learn the skills they need to be successful in college while taking just a course or two.”

Students who are dual enrolled also have the opportunity to get ahead on their coursework so that when they get to their university, they have more flexibility with their academic program and can focus on their major specific coursework, according to McDonald.

“They get the experience of interacting with faculty members, learning how to manage a college course load and becoming fully prepared to start at a university after high school.”

(Courtesy of UAH)