Student's Alzheimer's research gets notice

By Will Kangas
Lansing State Journal

OKEMOS, Mich. (AP) - Some high school research papers get A grades. Others get national recognition.

For Okemos High School senior Scott MacGuidwin, a two-year research project on the biochemistry of Alzheimer's disease led him to be asked to work with a University of Michigan professor who is studying the disease.

MacGuidwin spent last summer working in the lab of Ari Gafni, a U of M professor of biophysics who is studying how changes in the structure of certain proteins contributes to cell death in Alzheimer's and other diseases.

"I emailed him and he invited me to come and study with him," MacGuidwin told the Lansing State Journal. "It was hard work but very rewarding. I drove to Ann Arbor and worked eight-hour days in the lab."

MacGuidwin said he decided to study the effects of live cells on homocysteine, an amino acid found in Alzheimer's patients and believed to be the cause of the disease.

"All the previous research was done on artificial cells," he said. "I decided to do the same project on real normal cells. I found the exact opposite conclusion."

He said he found that homocysteine actually helps the cells and shields them from Alzheimer's-causing proteins.

It led to more tests at U-M and the same results came back, he said.

"The research Scott was involved in is our effort to identify the molecular mechanisms that underlie Alzheimer's disease," Gafni said. "Scott's work focused on one aspect of this research."

The success of MacGuidwin's research also led to him recently being named as a national semifinalist in the Intel Corp.'s Science Talent Search, a national science research competition for high school students.

Only 300 students in the country were named semifinalists. Because of this, both he and Okemos High School won $1,000 apiece. He wasn't selected as a finalist.

Okemos High School chemistry teacher Andy Moore said MacGuidwin is one of only 10 students each year that participate in the school's exclusive Honors Research Program.

He said to have a student spend the entire summer studying at a university demonstrates their dedication.

"This is without getting paid," he said. "It shows the kind of drive these students have."

Published: Wed, Mar 04, 2015

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