After a year of work, sophomore Amarachukwu Okpala’s scientific research was published in the Journal of Student Research, along with the projects of senior Megan Yang, senior Larissa Ma, senior Ashni Zaverchand, sophomore Bailey Vergara and sophomore Lorenzo Pulman.
The Journal of Student Research is a peer-reviewed, multidiscipline online journal meant to spread recent discoveries made by students.
Okpala has worked under Ms. Leya Joykutty for the Science Research program since her freshman year. Ms. Joykutty encourages her students to get their research published once their project has been completed, conducting an eight-week long summer intensive program and fall research after school to reach this goal. Okpala began over the summer in order to get a headstart on her project and is currently enrolled in fall research.
“When I was eight years old, doctors discovered that I had a heart murmur, abnormal swishing sounds of blood around the heart. After further examination, doctors saw that I had a hole in my heart. I got open heart surgery that same year, and I have a scar on my chest from it,” Okpala explained.
Inspired by her own childhood, Okpala decided to study a treatment called cellular cardiomyoplasty using mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs). MSCs are multipotent spindle-shaped plastic-adherent cells isolated from different tissue sources. Multipotent means that the cells have the capacity to self-renew by dividing, and to develop into multiple specialized cell types. Scientific debate exists about whether MSCs can be considered a type of stem cell.
“Scientists plan for the treatment to be used for heart failure and heart attacks. MSCs would be delivered to the area of the heart that is injured, replacing scar tissue that formed because of the two diseased states so that the heart can pump blood normally again. This also stops new scar tissue from forming,” Okpala said.
Okpala worked on her literary review paper through the first semester of last year, putting in three hours per week, and she decided to further her research this year with an experimental project.
Working in the lab, Okpala stays after school nearly every day. She takes science research as an additional course while balancing a full schedule of her core classes and electives.
“My favorite part of science research is the community that it creates, and how many great people you can meet,” she said.
Okpala feels proud of this accomplishment which she worked on all year. In the future, she hopes to make an impact by studying other life-saving treatments related to the human heart and cardiac health.
“Research opens my eyes to what is going on in science, how far it has come and how much is still left to discover,” Okpala explained.