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Gazelle Zerafati Wins $50,000 Prize

Young Epidemiology Scholars award follows her win earlier this month in the Greater Delaware Valley Science Fairs.

Gazelle Zerafati

Gazelle Zerafati

Gazelle Zerafati, 16, of Villanova, a student at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, PA, had quite an April. On April 26 she was awarded one of two $50,000 scholarships in the national Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the College Board. Shoshanna Goldin, 17, a student at the Moravian Academy in Allentown, PA, won the competition's other top award.

Gazelle won the competition for her investigation of migraines. A sufferer of the headaches herself, She surveyed her Baldwin School classmates and found that many of them were unaware of migraine symptoms or treatments, though sometimes the headaches were severe enough to miss school. She plans to continue her investigation with surveys at other schools.

On April 7, Gazelle won the Gold Medal for high school juniors in the Greater Delaware Valley Science Fairs. That prize, for her investigation of the affect of N-acetylaspartate (NAA) on brain cells called oligodendrocytes, netted her a full scholarship to Drexel University and an all-expense paid trip of to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair to be held May 9-14 in San Jose, Calif.

"I've known Gazelle since she was 12 and a student in my 7th grade biology class," says Susan Dorfman, PhD, the Baldwin School's science department chairperson. "Her level of maturity and profound interest in science led to many wonderful conversations with her when she was with my student and in the years since. Every one of her science teachers at Baldwin has felt the same way. She raises the level of discussion in the classroom by her insightful questions and thoughtful comments. She is incredibly humble and very generous."

Dr. Dorfman describes Gazelle's science fair project as "brilliant." She tested the brain cells of laboratory rats in various concentrations of NAA, showing that a high concentration of the chemical causes a sharp decrease in the development of oligodendrocytes. This, in turn, interferes with the growth of the brain's myelin sheath — a fatty covering that surrounds nerve cells and allows for efficient transmission of nerve impulses. This process is believed to be the core cause of the devastating genetic disorder Canavan disease.

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