Science student Olivia Lenzo to compete at international level

April 23, 2015

Senior Olivia Lenzo (right) has been named a national finalist in the U.S. BioGENEius Challenge and will move on to compete at the international level in June. The national challenge is the premier U.S. competition for high school students and is extremely competitive, with thousands of applicants. 

For her entry, Olivia's goal was to find a compound that would inhibit bacterial growth on the metal commonly used for joint replacement, decreasing the need for treatment with either antibiotics or removal of the new joint. She did an an extensive literature review to find world experts on infectious disease and collaborated with researchers at Vanderbilt University to develop her original research protocol. 

Olivia combined two plant isolates, umbelliferone and resveratrol, to create a compound that she tested on joint replacements. Unlike the usual antibiotic treatment, her new compound does not allow the bacteria to become resistant to it. Olivia says she would like to further explore this new agent in a spray form that could be used to decrease bacterial lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients. 

Olivia's winning project was conducted as part of OPRF's Investigative Research in Biomedical Innovation (IRBI) class, which is taught by Allison Hennings, a 2014 Golden Apple Award finalist. 

The work of the class is for each student to generate an idea for a high-level research project of his or her own design, find a mentor who is an expert in their chosen field, then conduct research and produce a 40-page paper, 12-minute PowerPoint presentation, and formal research poster. At the upcoming international competition, held in Philadelphia, Olivia will present her work in some of the same rooms where industry leaders are presenting their “next big thing” in biotechnology. 

IRBI classmate Kathleen Coogan also competed at the national level. She used the drug Proguanil, normally given to prevent malaria, and researched how different concentrations of the drug affected neural tube development in zebrafish embryos.