Epigenetics takes center stage with this year’s Addiction Science Awards

News Release

Friday, May 19, 2017

NIDA announces awardees at the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

A project applying the science of epigenetics to demonstrate the health dangers of hookah smoke won a first-place Addiction Science Award at the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) — the world’s largest science competition for high school students. The awards are coordinated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and Friends of NIDA, a coalition that supports NIDA’s mission. The Intel ISEF Addiction Science Awards were presented at a ceremony Thursday night at the downtown Convention Center in Los Angeles.

The first and second place awards went to students using epigenetics—how the environment can change gene expression. First place went to 16-year-old Anusha Zaman from the Baton Rouge Magnet High School in Louisiana, for her project, Epigenetic and Biotransformation Effects of Hookah Smoke Extract on Human Oral Keratinocytes. The high school sophomore analyzed the effect of wet and dry hookah smoke extracts on epithelial cells taken from inside human mouths. She discovered that hookah smoke induces potentially detrimental cellular responses relevant to inflammation and cancer. Her findings suggest that hookah smoke produces adverse health effects similar to those produced by cigarette smoke.

The second place award went to Nkima Stephenson from Conyers, Georgia, for her project, Data Analysis of the Epigenetics of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The 18-year-old senior from the Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology used the GeneWeaver database, which allows a functional analysis across multiple species through homology mapping. Using both human and rodent data, she compared data sets containing genes directly related to alcohol exposure, to sets containing genes modified by environmental influences, but also related to alcohol exposure. In…

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