Alabama High School Student Wins Acclaim For Cancer Research

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — When you think “dual enrollment,” it usually that means a high schooler can get some core college courses out of the way early so they can dive more deeply into their major when they enroll at the university.

Kailyn Grant, a rising senior at Bob Jones High School in Madison, took her dual enrollment at the University of Alabama in Huntsville to an entirely new level.

Rather than just getting some English or math classes behind her, Grant dove right into serious scientific research that won her acclaim at an international science fair, competing against top students from around the world.

Grant researched a better way to deliver chemotherapy drugs to reduce side effects, winning third place in the material science category of the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. That’s on top of advancing through the North Alabama Regional Science and Engineering Fair to win first place and “Best in Fair” awards at the Alabama Science and Engineering Fair.

“I was in school when I found out and later that day, the fact sank in that I was actually declared a grand award winner,” she said. “It’s incredibly humbling to know that your work has been acknowledged at this prestigious international competition. Needless to say, I am simply elated and very grateful for this recognition.”

Her adviser at UAH was Dr. Hapuarachchige Surangi Jayawardena, an assistant professor of chemistry. She used Jayawardena’s laboratory, which is equipped with a Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy machine and a dynamic light scattering machine. Let’s just say Bob Jones High’s chemistry lab probably is not similarly equipped.

Her research explored “delivering therapeutic drugs by using a core-shell nanoassembly that encapsulates doxorubicin-loaded mesoporous silica nanoparticles.”

That might as well be written in a foreign language to most of us, but the result, Grant said, is this: “My preliminary research has proven that this delivery method is an effective alternative drug delivery system and would not harm healthy cells surrounding the cancerous cells.”

To be sure, Grant is no ordinary high school student, but her advanced work is a testament to the education she’s received at Bob Jones High and to the encouragement and support she’s no doubt gotten at home. But it really wouldn’t have been possible, at least at this stage in her academic career, if she hadn’t had the opportunity to dual enroll at UAH.

The experience not only gained her practical lab experience and some early scientific acclaim, but gave her insight into campus life at the next level.

“The interaction with other undergrad students and the classes conducted by university professors have been beneficial,” she said. “And I truly feel that my positive experience as a dual-enrolled student at UAH has given me the confidence to embrace university life during the next chapter of my learning journey.”

UAH typically admits 35-55 dual enrollment students every semester, said Austin McDonald, associate director of admissions. Most local high schools inform their students about UAH’s dual enrollment opportunities, and the university attends dual enrollment college fairs as well as sponsoring information sessions. Interested parents and students can also email dual.enrollment@uah.edu.

And it’s OK If students don’t win international science prizes during their dual enrollment. Getting a head-start on core academic courses and an up-close look at college life is fine too.

“Dual enrollment allows students to gain real college experience before graduating high school,” McDonald said. “They can learn the skills they need to be successful in college while taking just a course or two.”