Seniors search for a cure to memory loss

Through the Science Research program at Sacred Heart Greenwich, seniors Laura Ferrucci and Meredith Wilson received a first place award from the Lead Like a Girl Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) conference April 6.  Laura and Meredith wrote their award-winning paper on new ways to reduce and prevent memory loss.
Led by Ms. Mary Musolino, Upper School Science Research Teacher, the Science Research Program at Sacred Heart focuses on laboratory and bibliographic research.  The course engages girls to conduct their own studies and present their work in class and at various conferences and events.

Laura Ferrucci ’19 and Meredith Wilson ’19 presenting their hypothesis at the Lead Like a Girl conference.  Lé-Anne Johnson ’21

During their first year of the three-year program, students choose a topic on which to focus.  In the second year, the students learn how to perform experiments and collect the information needed to develop a hypothesis.  The last year consists of writing a research paper and submitting it to competitions.  Students are also given mentors outside of the Sacred Heart community to help prepare them and to submit their final paper to the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

There are 25 seniors in the science research program this year.  As a whole, they have won awards in the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision science competition and the CT STEM Fair.  In addition, five seniors studied shark behavior and tested their shark-repellent wetsuit at the Bimini Shark Lab in the Bahamas.  Most recently, Laura and Meredith received the first place award for their project that focused on the effects of superfruit antioxidants on memory and cognitive function.
The Lead Like a Girl conference, also known as #LEADLIKEAGIRL, took place at Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart in Princeton, New Jersey.  This event was Laura’s first time presenting her research. 
“#LEADLIKEAGIRL was my first competition, so it was really cool that it all worked out so beautifully my senior year,” Laura said.

Laura and Meredith’s primary goal was to make advances in the research regarding the prevention or reversal of degenerative cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.  After doing intensive research on Alzheimer’s and superfruits, they learned that the presence of inflammatory proteins allow Alzheimer’s symptoms to progress.  The high levels of antioxidant activity in superfruits allow them to reverse age-related changes to the body and reduce inflammation. 

The pair used this information to develop their hypothesis: the anti-inflammatory properties of superfruits could reduce the inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  To test this, Laura and Meredith used a roundworm organism called C. elegansC. elegans is naturally found in soil and is non-hazardous, non-infectious, non-pathogenic, and non-parasitic, according to  Their research allowed them to discover that the superfruits have the potential to be an effective cure for the memory loss disease.

Laura Ferrucci ’19 and Meredith Wilson ’19 shared their research findings at the Lead Like a Girl conference.  Courtesy of Ms. Mary Musolino

“In our experiment, we measured the antioxidant activity in four different superfruits–maqui berry, mangosteen, acai, and blueberry.  Then, we placed C. elegans in extracts of these superfruits,” Laura said.  “We used a method called tap-withdrawal to determine the effects of each superfruit on the C. elegans‘ memory retainment.”
Although more testing is necessary to reach a final solution, they learned that superfruits will be a part of the cure to memory loss diseases.

Meredith feels fortunate to have been able to study Science Research at Sacred Heart and was thrilled to share her findings with other students.

“Our presentation at the #LEADLIKEAGIRL conference was certainly a highlight of my time in Science Research,” Meredith said.  “Not only was it meaningful and enjoyable to deliver a presentation that represented the culmination of several months of research and inquiry, but it was also inspiring to listen to the other STEM talks and hear about the incredible projects that young women our age are currently undertaking.”

Featured Image by Lé-Anne Johnson ’21