Biomedical Innovations: In-house Noblesville High School internship leads to groundbreaking DNA sequencing research

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Noblesville High School teacher Caitlyn Foye didn’t want her students missing out on research experience.

So, when the COVID-19 pandemic made medical internship placements unavailable in the spring of 2021, she brought Biomedical Innovations – a senior capstone course – to the classroom.

“The decision to bring the Biomedical Innovations internship in house was more out of necessity than choice,” Foye said. “The students who are taking Biomedical Innovations have worked for four years with the expectation of being able to complete a medical internship in their eighth and final semester of the Project Lead the Way course series.”

Foye said students were bitterly disappointed when medical internship placements were unavailable the spring 2021 semester.

“The students were devastated, and I started to consider how to provide them with an authentic internship experience that could be completed with the supplies and equipment we have available in our classroom,” Foye said. “Looking back on it now, I believe the students may have been able to be more hands-on with this molecular-genetics experience than shadowing in a medical setting, and that brings me a lot of joy to know that we made the best of a tough situation.”

The students’ DNA sequencing research has been published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, an international database. It is being published in the Indiana Sciences Academy Journal, in partnership with their teacher, this month.

“I think it shows how great (Foye) was at being able to adapt to the situation that we were in,” said Josh Lamantia, one of the four students to work on the project. “It was great she was able to adapt to a bad situation and make the best out of it and still get us really good lab experience, which is important for any field that I and my fellow classmates would want to get into. To have that experience in high school gives us an advantage in college.”

Lamantia was one of four students, along with Brayden Colon, Steve Kozakiewicz and Josh Middleton. Each studied a different plant.

“We identified a key component of how fern and moss plants break down food as a usable source of energy for a cell,” Foye said. “While this has been studied before in flowering plants, the gene sequencing work we did was the first of its kind that we know of on these earlier evolved plant groups. Our hope is that these gene sequences can now be used by researchers to further study conditions in plants that do not flower.”

Foye said she is proud of the students for their resiliency throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and their successful completion of the high-level project.

“It is really unique and a great accomplishment for these students to be published authors as high school students,” Foye said. “I am thankful that the students are able to take away a tangible product of their success from this project that I believe will set them up well as they pursue their goals in their undergraduate and graduate education.”

Foye said the group looks forward to sharing the work with the science community at the annual conference of the Indiana Academy of Science in the spring.

“It’s crazy to believe I was given that opportunity and people are still working on (getting published) in grad school,” Lamantia said. “It’s an amazing feeling, because that’s like every scientist’s dream to be published in a journal. I was 17 at the time.”

Kozakiewicz, who is studying biochemistry and eventually wants to become an emergency room physician, said the internship helped prepare him for college.

“When I applied to Indiana University’s ASURE (Arts + Sciences Undergraduate Research Experience) and I had the prior research I could list, that helped me in the program I am now,” he said.

Kozakiewicz said he wasn’t surprised the research is going to be published.

“We worked hard on it,” he said. “I feel really accomplished about it. We spent over 16 weeks on the project. Three days a week we were doing lab work. It was a great experience. I’m in an introductory lab course, and my partner and I are miles away from the lab skills of some of the people in there.”

Lamantia is studying forensic science with a concentration in biology at IUPUI.

“I’d like to be a DNA analyst, specifically in a police lab, whether that be for Indiana State Police or surrounding states,” he said. “I think that’s my dream job.”

Colon is attending Indiana University and Middleton is at Purdue.

From left, Josh Middleton, Josh Lamantia, Brayden Colon were part of a four-student team that completed DNA sequencing research at Noblesville High School. (Photo courtesy of Noblesville Schools)

A big assist

Noblesville High School Biomedical Innovations teacher Caitlyn Foye said she was thankful to the Noblesville Schools Education Foundation and Donald Pappas at Ivy Tech for the roles they played in the students’ project.

The project was funded through a $2,500 grant from the Noblesville Schools Education Foundation. Ivy Tech supported the project through use of high-tech equipment at its facilities.

“When I started planning for this experience for the students, I quickly realized that while this project would be able to be completed in our school building, my course did not have any funds for the supplies for the project because students are usually off campus at their internships for this semester,” Foye said. “NSEF was extremely supportive of the project, and without the funds from the foundation, none of the work would have been possible. Ivy Tech was also instrumental in the completion of the process. We were so fortunate to use their biotechnology lab and the help of Dr. Pappas to allow the students to see the sequencing step in action. Typically, this step of sequencing is done by shipping samples off to a biotechnology company, receiving back data in a couple weeks’ time.

“This is both expensive and takes that experience of sequencing in the lab away from the students. Dr. Pappas graciously allowed us to use their new sequencing machine at the Lawrence campus and helped us through this step of the process, further providing Noblesville students with this very unique opportunity.”


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