Inspired by a her mother's breast cancer diagnosis, Ashley George, thought of an idea for a medical-related science project that eventually won her a Davidson Fellow scholarship this year for $25,000.
George was one of only eight students across the country to win the scholarship at the $25,000 level and 22 students won scholarships this year overall.
The Salutatorian at Comsewogue High School in the 2012 graduating class had the idea for a new type of medical biosensor–like the ones being developed to detect the BRCA1 gene associated with breast cancer. According to a statement released by the Davidson Institute, the biosensor George developed had the unique property of being flexible, biodegradable and biocompatible.
“A major barrier hindering the application of biosensors outside a laboratory environment is the lack of a flexible substrate with low toxicity and high biodegradability,” the statement said. “She sought to overcome this obstacle by constructing a biosensor consisting of gelatin and chitosan, a polysaccharide that is derived from crab shells. By lowering the pH of the gel the chitosan was activated, allowing DNA to adhere to the gel. Methylene blue was used as an indicator to detect the presence of DNA on the gel.”
The Institute also went on to say:
Ashley feels it is important that as technology improves, measures must be taken to avoid the release of toxic wastes into the environment. That is why it is essential that there be a next-generation of “green” projects that are not only efficient, but are also made of all-natural materials with the lowest toxicity. Ashley’s research combines the idea of a next-generation “green” project with the intent of pushing biosensing research onto a whole new level.
Research has already proven that biosensors are capable of detecting the BRCA1 gene as well as in detecting tuberculosis. Biosensors can also be used for environmental purpose such as monitoring the safety of drinking water. If a biosensor is cost effective and can be used without extensive lab equipment, the range of its accessibility increases. One can even make a portable biosensor “toolkit.”
Davidson Fellows scholarships are awarded to students 18 and under who have completed a project at the college graduate-level that has the potential to benefit society in science, mathematics, technology, or the humanities. The scholarships come in $50,000, $25,000 or $10,000 grants that must be used at an accredited institute of learning.
George, 18, is a freshman at Shepherd University in the MedSTEP B.S.-M.D. program with a major in Biology. She hopes to one day be a physician.