“I discovered I have a passion for science,” said Payne, who readily admits he wasn’t focused on science when he began his school’s required class in research and scientific inquiry. But the opportunity to get assistance from Dr. diIorio on his independent research project proved life-changing.
“Phil was so accommodating,” Payne recalled. “We even learned how to breed the zebrafish so we could continue to work with them at school.”
DiIorio, who studies beta cells in zebrafish, welcomed Payne and Moonis into his lab to conduct the project Effect of Ethanol on Beta Cell Development in Zebrafish: Linking Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to Type 1 Diabetes. After exposing zebrafish embryos to increasing concentrations of ethanol, a pure form of alcohol, they observed the health and function of pancreatic beta cells, which are needed to produce insulin. As the alcohol concentrations increased, more beta cells became degraded. Poor beta cell functioning in the pancreas is directly linked to diabetes, leading the team to conclude there might be a link between alcohol use during pregnancy and type 1 diabetes.
The project, earned them a “Team 1st Place” honor at the 64th Annual Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in May. Placing at this level qualified them to compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix two weeks later.
Payne’s experience in diIorio’s lab prompted him to pursue additional research opportunities at UMMS. This summer, he has been working in the laboratory of Sharon Cantor, PhD, associate professor of cancer biology, which is studying a gene mutation in hereditary breast cancer.
Payne also hopes to conduct additional diabetes research in a UMMS lab during the upcoming school year when he will also be applying to colleges as a science major. “Getting so much exposure in the labs and getting to do independent research has been a great experience,” he concluded. “Being at UMass has led to awesome opportunities.”
Related link on UMassMedNow:Hormone that makes diabetes-fighting cells in mice holds promise for humans: Beta cell expert Philip diIorio eager to apply findings to future studies