Merion Mercy at the Annenberg Symposium

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Merion Mercy at the Annenberg Symposium

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            The 14th annual annenberg high school science symposium was a night to remember, with students presenting topics about new cures for cancer, drug addiction, and burn treatments, everyone in attendance walked out having learned something new. Five schools in attendance – Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, Merion Mercy Academy, Radnor High School, Sacred Heart Academy, and Villa Maria Academy – each researched a topic they had interest in, wrote a paper with all their organized thoughts, created a presentation to share with the other schools, and made a creative piece (a video, painting, or script of some sort that was inventive and helped viewers to better understand their topic).

           The Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy presented their topic on Car-T Cells: A New Cure for Cancer first. Their abstract describes a little about what they learned through their research:

“Recently, the use of a patient’s own immune system to attack cancerous tumors (called immunotherapy) has great increased. CAR-T cells are a recent treatment used for altering T cells in the laboratory in order to prevent the onset of cancer. With a disarmed virus of HIV, the T-cells are genetically engineered to produce receptors on their surface called Chimeric Antigen Receptors, or CAR. The first generation of these receptors was developed in 1989, but no one knew that it would really work until the 2000s. It was eventually selected as “breakthrough of the year” in 2013 and was approved by the FDA in August of 2017.”

One problem with CAR-T cells at the moment is the high cost of such treatment, currently over $475,000. This means that lower income patients cannot afford it and are unable to access this treatment. Secondly, there may also be life-threatening side effects to CAR-T cell treatment. Third, it is still a new cancer therapy so many physicians and patients are hesitant to use it.

    Barrack’s creative piece was a humorous comic that depicted a CAR-T cell going in to fight off cancerous cells. Their presentation was entertaining as well as informative which is why they won Best Explanation of a Complex Topic.

    The next school to present was our very own Merion Mercy Academy. This project is organized by Mrs. Karen McClennen and is researched and performed by her students in the Physiology and Anatomy A classes. The students who presented the topic of Opioid Addiction in Women were: Ave Burke, Sam Boychuk-Pasciullo, Christina Croff, Megan Giarraputo, Olivia Henningsen, Jessica Lehman, Emma McIntyre, Rebecca Naser, Annamarie Palermo, Brynn Tallarida, Grace Torna, and Jill Zupito. There were many other Merion students and teachers, including Mrs. Danovich, who came to support out presenters and learn about this topic. We picked our topic becuase opioid addiction was recently declared a national public health emergency and statistics show that women’s use has gone up almost twice as much as men in recent years. Our abstract was:

“Opioid addiction plagues about five million people in the United States. In 2016, overdoses caused over 42,000 deaths, of these 13,700 were women. Opioids are commonly used for medical reasons such as lessening discomfort after surgery, relieving anxiety and easing chronic pain. Frequent use of opioids causes dependency on the drug. Long-term opioid use alters nerve cell function in the brain. Opioid tolerance subsequently can cause withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, women have a higher usage rate for opioids than men because they often prescribed the drugs for chronic pain and/or anxiety. In fact, women are more likely to become addicted to prescription painkillers than their male counterparts. Triggering factors for addiction include: hostile environments, genetics, traumatic injury and anxiety. Among the female population, pregnant women have the most to lose. Expectant mothers who take painkillers, prescribed of otherwise, face the certainty of an addicted baby and birth deformities. Opioid withdrawal can be very dangerous for the mother and the child. Overall, a number of factors lead an individual down the path of addiction. This topic hopes to raise awareness and understanding about the dilemma of opioid addiction in women.”

   Our creative piece was a compilation of videos found online and made by our students to better explain the issue. This pieces consisted of the 1998 Purdue Pharma promotional video about opioid use, a clip from a news broadcast about the heroin crisis and babies going through withdrawal and, finally, a video that showed one person path to addiction and recovery made by our students (and composed by Grace Torna). Due to the seriousness of this topic and the many lives it affects, Merion was awarded the Greatest Sensitivity for a topic.

    The school to perform after Merion was Radnor High School. Their topic was about Alternative and Natural Medicine:

“Alternative medicine, specifically natural medicine, attempts to cure body illnesses and diseases using wide variety of natural substances, like herbs, mind and body practices, such as meditation and acupuncture, instead of pharmaceutical drugs. Its philosophy is centered around catering treatment to an individual’s needs and the idea of self-healing. Historically, people used a variety of alternative treatments, including wormwood, leeches, and bloodletting. While not all of these methods are applicable today, countless natural medicines are still used throughout the world.

Doctors may prescribe natural foods, plant-based supplements, or behavioral treatments, such as sleep, to boost immune system and cure skin, skeletal, muscular, neurological, respiratory, cardiac, digestive, metabolic, endocrine, and reproductive complications, to name a few. Some people prefer these types of treatments, considering them to be a healthier and cheaper option. However, since individuals often resort to natural medicine without consulting a physician and sine the entirety of its safety and effectiveness has not been proven, individuals have debated the ethics of promoting alternative medicine. Ultimately, though, whether these treatments are something as common as chicken noodle soup or as buzzard as ginseng (a plant used to mitigate the effects of neurodegeneratove diseases), their applications are endless.”

    Radnor’s creative was a script comparing two people who had a headache and went to two different doctors, one prescribe painkillers while the other gave the patient herbs and suggestions for other natural medicines. This topic won Most Globally Aware.

    The fourth high school to go was Sacred Heart Academy. Their topic was The development, applications, and ethics of CRISPR-cas9 and their abstract explained a little about this complex topic:

  • The breakthrough biomedical engineering technique called CRISPR-cas9 is used to edit genomes, meaning that DNA in organisms can be permanently changed. This technology was developed from immune defenses in certain bacteria. When bacteria are infected by viruses, called bacteriophages, bacteria can reuse the DNA from an attack to evolve and even use the virus’ own DNA against them in future attacks. CRISPR molecules and their cas9 enzymes use nucleases and helicases to cut and then replace defective DNA nucleotides. While this gene editing technology could potentially dissolve the issue of genetic diseases and conditions, it may also contradict the important principles of biomedical ethics and present peril to the human race. Since we are now developing technology that can modify the normal process of genetic change and evolution, the question of designer babies and eternal youth should be included in the ethical discussions.

    Sacred Heart’s creative piece was a stop motion video that showed the journey of a CRISPR-cas9 cell and how he protects himself from viruses. They won the Most Artistic Presentation award.

    The last group to present was Villa Maria Academy their topic: “Burn, Baby, Burn” Innovations in Burn Therapy. Their presentation included:

  • Over 486,000 individuals seek medical treatment for burns every year and over forty thousand of them are hospitalized due to the severity of their injuries. With damage ranging from the red, non-blistered skin characteristic of a first-degree burn, to widespread leathery appearance of a third-degree burn, medical professionals use a variety of techniques in treatment. Standard treatment for first and second degree injuries involves topical therapies, dressing and the removal of active blisters. The treatment for severe burns requires debriding, or the painful removal of dead tissue, prior to a grafting surgery. In the event that a burn is so severe that all epidermal stem cells are eradicated, the surgeon must additionally remove the entire dermal layer. While current treatments like skin grafts are certainly successful in saving the patient from considerable physical damage, newer innovations such as Vivostat, ReCell, and Stem Cell therapy promise the treat the physical symptoms without producing the lasting psychological effects left from severe pain and scarring. This presentation will examine the efficacy of such treatments in producing less scar tissue, managing pain, and generally minimizing the suffering of the burn victim both physically and physiologically.

 Their creative piece (which they showed before they presented their power-point) was a script video explaining and portraying the extreme pain that one goes through when getting treated for burns. The award they won was Best Spontaneous Answer because, when asked a question on how they would divide a large sum of money amount all the topics talked about that night, they answered wisely and told the judges they would divide among the topics that they thought most important at present and other clinics that would be beneficial for all the issues talked about and the Annenberg Symposium.

   While all the students did a phenomenal job with research and presenting, their teachers worked put in just as much work if not, more. The teacher of Jack M, Barrack Hebrew Academy was Elliot Mitchell. Merion Mercy’s teacher was Karen McClennen. Radnor High School was guided by teacher Jeffrey Thomas. Sacred Heart had the help of Joanne Dougherty. Lastly, Villa Maria, whom was a last minute addiction to the program, had teacher Amy Keglovits to help keep them organized. We also must acknowledge the judges, who took time out of their day to listen and learn about what each school researched and make them impossible decisions of which award goes to which school. The judges were: Emily K. B. Gordon, MD, Lauren Gruenwald Navitsky, MS, Quincy Shuda, Barry D. Mann, MD. Lastly, the moderator was Michael Ferrell, MD.

      The Annenberg High School Symposium’s mission statement is “to enhance communication of the art and science of medicine to health care providers and the public” which this year, along with every other, they certainly have accomplished.