While many Manatee County students will be celebrating spring break on Monday morning by sleeping until noon, two Palmetto High School students will be briefing members of the Manatee County Health Department on a potential vaccine for diabetes.
Freshmen Angelique Caouette, 15, and Sophia Cardillo, 14, are students in Michelle Dowell’s biomedical science class. Dowell, a former nurse and clinical researcher who makes her students tackle real-world problems, told the students they needed to come up with an innovation that would improve the life of a diabetic.
The girls developed a design for a nanobot vaccine to be injected directly into a baby’s arm and pancreas that could halt the disease’s development. The girls’ product took first place in a “Shark Tank”-style competition Dowell held, and on Thursday they presented their innovation to seniors in Palmetto’s biomedical sciences program and two medical students from LECOM College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The medical students were impressed with the two freshmen standing at the front of the room, explaining how their product would protect the beta cells in the pancreas of potential type 1 diabetics and fielding questions from classmates.
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“Is the product biodegradable?”
“What are the side effects?”
“What prevents the vaccine from being pulled out of the body?”
The girls fielded each question calmly, using medical terminology to explain the specifics of their product.
“The delivery was what was I think was most impressive to me, aside from a great job with the research and all that, as well,” said second-year medical student Shawn O’Keefe.
The key word to the assignment: innovation. Students were not allowed to put a spin on an existing idea or copy what researchers or scientists had already discovered. Dowell said her background in medicine meant she could spot a copycat instantly, and the barrage of questions following each presentation ensured students were not just relying on Google to throw together a presentation before retreating to their seats.
“They had to come up with their own ideas, and it wasn’t easy because at first they were like, ‘Everything’s been invented. What are we supposed to do?’” Dowell said.
Dowell said she intentionally gives students minimal information with an assignment like this. She does not want them regurgitating answers to her — she wants them conducting research and developing original conclusions.
Second-year LECOM medical student Brittney Ginsburg said the class’s style was more similar to her college courses than anything she did in high school.
“I wish we had something like this when I was in high school,” said Ginsburg. “I had biology, chemistry, physics, but I don’t remember anything from high school.”