Recent Walker alum’s research published in professional journal
Shanzeh Sheikh, who graduated from Walker this year, has something else to celebrate. The newly minted Duke Blue Devil’s medical research was recently published in the August issue of “Journal of Emerging Investigators.”
“It’s exciting to know research I have done could bring a new perspective to allergy and asthma research,” she said. “Other researchers can build off of it, or I can go back and continue working on it.”
Shanzeh’s study sought to determine whether there was an association between a certain gene and asthma or allergic rhinitis. The association had not been studied in Western populations, she said. Her findings could lead to earlier diagnosis and advancements in targeted therapies for asthma and allergic rhinitis.
The “Journal of Emerging Investigators” is geared toward student researchers, but the process for getting her peer-reviewed research published was just as rigorous as the process for more advanced researchers.
She submitted her paper in January and received numerous questions and recommended revisions from physicians and researchers around the globe. The final publication edits were completed in June, she said.
“It’s an exciting process to see what it’s like, so having the experience is really important because I want to do this in the future,” Shanzeh said.
She credits Emily Adams, Walker’s Innovative Teaching Chair and Middle and Upper School Science Chair, along with Walker’s commitment to its students for giving her the opportunity, time and equipment to pursue the research in a way much different than her peers outside Walker.
“When I talk to people, they’re surprised I got to do this research. All the equipment and samples are not typical high school equipment,” she said. “Mrs. Adams taught us how to use machines, resources for literature review and gave us guidelines for our research papers."
“She allowed us to become independent. I did the actual DNA extraction and PCR myself.”
“Mrs. Adams is an incredible mentor,” Shanzeh said. “She was always there when I was stressed.”
Adams said: “Shanzeh is a deep thinker and is committed to put in the work to gain a deep conceptual understanding of the subject matter.”
She also helped her peers, Adams said: “Her willingness to collaborate with her colleagues and lend a hand with finicky labs was always appreciated.”
Shanzeh said she is grateful for Walker’s Warren Science and Technology building, which includes a space specifically for the Guided Scientific Research program, which enables students to form their own questions and design how they will approach and then write about their research.
“Research has been established at Walker,” she said. That means when she announced at an Upper School assembly that she needed spit samples from faculty, staff and students in order to collect their DNA, 38 people volunteered.
“I got so many that I was able to have a statistical analysis,” Shanzeh said.
“Walker is deeply committed to providing students with an authentic scientific research experience through our Guided Scientific Research courses in Public Health and Engineering,” Adams said. “Owning the entire arc of the research experience… has proven invaluable time and again for our Guided Scientific Research alumni as they seek lab position in college and beyond.
Shanzeh’s research was part of a Public Health Concentration that Walker offers students. Any sophomore can apply for the PHC, which includes an epidemiology class, a summer internship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where Shanzeh worked with the Emergency Response and Recovery Division of Global Health Protection on the world’s responses to Ebola.
“My love and passion for global health can be tied back to the CDC Program,” Shanzeh said. The track concludes with a Guided Scientific Research Class in the fall of the student’s senior year in which students must identify their own research topic and map out the research process. It concludes with students writing a research paper.
Of the 41 Public Health Concentration alumni, at least 13 have worked in research labs on projects as diverse as microneedle vaccine delivery, swine influenza genetic evolution, parasitology, adolescent depression and neuroscience.
“I’m appreciative of being able to pursue a research project such as this because I want to pursue research in college,” Shanzeh said. “This [opportunity] is one of the best things [Walker] provided me while I was there.”