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Smithtown Central School District
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Regeneron Scholar at HSE!

January 10, 2023

Smithtown High School East's Holy Mary Zaher is among 300 students nationwide named scholars in this year's Regeneron Science Talent Search!

Regeneron Scholar at HSE picture


Started in 1942, the Regeneron Science Talent Search is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and mathematics competition. It recognizes and empowers our nation’s most promising young scientists who are developing ideas that could solve society’s most urgent challenges.

Ms. Zaher’s research project was titled “The Correlation Between Peroxisome Levels and Short-Term Memory Loss in a PINK1-/- Rat Model of Parkinson's Disease."
The focal point of the study was looking at the cellular level in those who have the disease. There is a certain cellular subcomponent responsible for decreasing stress caused by harmful compounds. The cellular component’s levels can be measured to establish a possible relationship between how much is present and Parkinson’s disease. 

However, to examine the organelle’s levels, a brain region of interest afflicted by Parkinson’s disease needed to be chosen. Rat models of Parkinson’s disease were used to investigate memory deficits by exploiting rats’ natural tendency to explore. They were introduced to new and old objects and their interactions with the objects were observed. It was found that the 12.5-month-old rats with Parkinson’s disease had short-term memory problems, but not long-term memory problems; therefore, brain regions responsible for short-term memory were selected as regions of interest. 
Holy Mary counted over 45,000 points delineating pyramidal neurons in the selected brain regions. No difference between the intensity of the organelle’s presence and Parkinson’s disease was found. However this leads to the next step of investigating if the organelle is functioning to its full capacity. 

High School East's science research coordinator Maria Zeitlin says Ms. Zaher’s research was especially impressive because she was the one who created it. 
"Ms. Zaher's work investigating Parkinson's Disease utilized rat brain tissue to probe the presence of damage due to reactive oxygen species on brain cells. Often students are given projects to work on. What makes this extra special is that it was a project she created. It was a very clever investigation performed after pondering what was seemingly a simple question in theory, but complicated for a high school student to actually execute, and she did so at such an advanced level. She is well-deserving of this honor and I am so proud of her! Her work involved countless hours including weekends reading research journals and executing the experiment. She exhibited incredible resilience as her data was still coming in right up until days before the STS deadline."

Pictured are Director Science K-12 Dr. Stephanie O'Brien, Maria Zeitlin, Holy Mary Zaher and High School East Principal Robert Rose.