Forsyth Student Scholars Program provides hands-on research experience for aspiring scientists

Alex Boucher is an incoming senior at Brockton High School. He’s interested in science and wants to eventually work in the field of cancer oncology. But there aren’t many science programs at his school.

When Megan Pugach, Director of the Forsyth Student Scholars Program, visited Brockton High to talk about the program and hand out applications, Boucher knew he had to apply. This summer, he was one of 13 students accepted as a Student Scholar.

The Forsyth Student Scholars Program exposes high school students to the world of scientific research. Created in 1993, the program allows students to work side-by-side in the laboratory with scientists engaged in cutting-edge research.

Boucher worked throughout the summer with Dr. Fan Zhu, a postdoctoral fellow studying microbiology at the Forsyth Institute. Now, Boucher is getting ready to present his final project, called “The Oral Microbiota—A Predictor of Oral Health.”

For his project, Boucher took saliva samples from his own mouth and the mouths of two other people. He then cultured the samples and sequenced the bacteria in each sample. This provides a unique fingerprint of bacteria community—called the oral microbiota—for each person sampled.

Boucher knew that two of the samples came from healthy mouths with no cavities or signs of tooth decay, while one sample came from a mouth that did have active cavities. He is now comparing the healthy and unhealthy oral microbiomes to try and spot the differences in bacteria composition profile.

“We are aiming towards personal and individual treatment,” Boucher said. “When you can identify all the different bugs in someone’s mouth and find out the key players, it might be easier and more effective for dentists to treat diseases for each person.”

Within his samples, Boucher found traces of bacteria called TM7. Scientists at Forsyth are studying TM7 to see if it correlates with any common oral diseases, such as dental cavities or periodontal disease. Boucher hopes to continue his research at Forsyth next summer.

Dr. Fan Zhu supervised Boucher in the lab and said that he made valuable contributions to the research.

“I didn’t have many expectations from a high school student, so the initial project I gave him was pretty easy. I really just wanted him to get excited about scientific research in general and have an overall understanding about the oral microbiome research we do at Forsyth,” Zhu said. “After getting further in the lab and discussing the potential application of oral microbiome research, he developed a new project, which I didn’t expect. I think he’s a very talented young scientist as a high school student.”

Megan Pugach, Director of the Forsyth Student Scholars Program, said she and the other staff members were thoroughly impressed with Boucher’s progress and dedication to his research this summer.

“His passion for science, inquisitive nature and thoughtful approaches to experiments are exactly the qualities we are looking for in Forsyth Student Scholars and future scientists in general,” Pugach said. “We hope that this experience helps guide Alex’s career in STEM, which is a critical part of the Mission of the Forsyth Student Scholars Program.”

Monday, September 10, 2018
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