Forum Posts

Varsha Shankar
Feb 08, 2022
In ARTICLES
Cancer, one of the deadliest diseases in the world, takes the lives of millions each year. There have been many treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and others. Yet, the disease still persists, and people fear the very word “cancer.” In the past year, one potential treatment, from a surprising source, was researched: mRNA vaccines. [1] mRNA vaccines, or messenger RNA vaccines, are currently the most common type of COVID-19 treatment. Unlike many other vaccine classes, mRNA vaccines do not actually contain live viruses; they teach our cells to generate spike proteins that are present on the COVID-19 virus to display on their surfaces. This allows the body to recognize the spike protein from COVID-19 virus and produce an immune response against it. [2] So how do COVID-19 mRNA vaccines combat cancer? These vaccines, manufactured by German pharmaceutical BioNTech, work similarly to COVID-19 mRNA vaccines; they teach our cells to generate proteins on the surfaces of tumor cells, allowing our immune systems to learn to recognize these proteins and generate antibodies or T cells to destroy the tumor cells. [3] There are 2 main delivery strategies as of now: direct injection and injecting tumor antigens on dendritic cells (the immune cells that present antigens). [1] What makes these vaccines more effective than other cancer treatments? The main difference between mRNA cancer vaccines and other cancer therapies is that the mRNA vaccines, by using proteins unique to the patient’s tumors, actually train the body’s immune system to fight against the specific type of cancer, allowing for the treatment to be more personalized and detailed. [1, 3] mRNA cancer vaccines are also fast to manufacture, taking only days to develop new vaccines. [3] The future of mRNA cancer vaccines is certainly bright, and we should all be excited for the breakthroughs that this novel treatment will break in cancer therapy! References: 1: https://www.cancernetwork.com/view/messenger-rna-vaccines-beckoning-of-a-new-era-in-cancer-immunotherapy 2: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html#:~:text=The%20mRNA%20vaccines%20do%20not,it%20on%20their%20 surface 3: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer/mrna-vaccines-frontier-cancer-treatment-rcna8886
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Varsha Shankar
Aug 16, 2021
In ARTICLES
What is a sport? Oxford dictionary defines the term as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Some popular team sports include basketball, football, and baseball. Some individual sports include fencing, swimming, and gymnastics. What do all these have in common? They are considered official sports– they are included in the Olympics, NCAA, and are generally credited in high school. Unlike these sports, dance is not considered an official sport. There are no dance categories as of now at the Olympics and NCAA, and most high school dance teams do not offer sports credit. You may wonder, why is this the case? There is no real answer to this question. Dance is undeniably one of the most challenging sports and should be officialy recognized as one. Here is why. Dance falls under every aspect of the definition of sports; it involves stamina, flexibility, acrobatics, grace, technique, and countless other athletic aspects. Let’s begin by talking about why dance fits into the category of sports. If you have seen dance, whether it be through Dance Moms, World of Dance, or even your cousin’s dance recital, chances are that you thought “I could never do that” or “how are they so flexible?” It’s no secret that dance requires a lot of skill. To be a good dancer, there are so many things to think about: maintaining technique, having musicality, perfecting all your tricks and turns, showing emotion, and having stamina to keep up the rigorous performances. For example, take a look at Brynn Rumfallo’s solo “Botched” from Dance Moms. The whole time, Brynn’s technique is stellar, all her leaps are in oversplits, her musicality is perfect, she handled the prop well, her acrobatics and flexibility were on point, and to top it off, and she kept up emotion and energy the whole time. What about this isn’t a sport? Are the split leaps and kicks that require insane flexibility and the turns that require extreme precision not athletic enough? What Brynn did required a great deal of skill and athleticism, comparable to and maybe even more than any other official sport. In addition to athleticism, dance requires versatility. It isn’t enough to be a one trick pony; dancers generally train in multiple styles and have to excel at all of them if they would like to win major titles. Many competitive dancers train over 7 hours a day in ballet, contemporary, jazz, hip hop, tap, and ballroom. Each and every one of these styles is so different from the rest and takes years of practice to master. Ballet is the style of dance about precision and control while contemporary highlights fluidity, and emotion. Jazz showcases energy and acrobatics while hip hop emphasizes stamina and sharpness. Tap is all about quick feet and musicality while ballroom is about sass and movement quality. And for each of these styles, there are completely different technical guidelines dancers have to follow. Under this perspective, dance is most definitely a sport because in addition to requiring immense stamina and athleticism, dancers must excel at a variety of completely different styles and train hard to master each of them. Despite being underrated for many decades, dance is finally getting the recognition it deserves. At the 2024 Olympics, break dancing is currently scheduled to be a sport. Many schools are contemplating making their dance teams official sports teams. And hopefully, more people will start watching and appreciating how crazy talented dancers are. So the next time you’re bored, why don’t you watch an episode of Dancing With the Stars? I guarantee that you’ll be inspired by how talented the dancers are!
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Varsha Shankar
Jun 21, 2021
In ARTICLES
Malaria. When we hear this word, we instantly picture people dying. We see malnourished children and poverty. This is one of the deadliest diseases in the world, affecting 220 million people every year and killing 400,000 [1]. How does Malaria work? Malaria is caused by the plasmodium parasite. Mosquitoes infected with the parasite bite humans, infecting humans’ liver and red blood cells, compromising the immune system. Then another mosquito bites the person, carries the virus, and spreads it to more people and so on [1]. There have been many past medications to treat Malaria but all of them have only achieved limited, if any, success. Malaria is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, but also is prevalent in South Asia, the Middle East, and other countries with large mosquito populations [2]. In recent years, CRISPR gene drives have been an area of interest in the realm of malaria treatment. What is CRISPR? As you may know, CRISPR is a gene editing technology that can be thought of as a copy and paste for genes. CRISPR has had a significant impact on cancer treatment and other medical innovations. In fact, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Carpentier won the Nobel Prize this year for CRISPR research. It has recently been a subject of research for Malaria cures. How does CRISPR work? CRISPR deploys an enzyme called Cas9 to cut DNA strands. Cas9 will cut pretty much any DNA. However, its specificity comes from guide RNA, also known as gRNA. Cas9 interacts with gRNA, which binds to DNA through base pair matching. When the gRNA binds to the DNA strongly enough, the DNA is cleaved by Cas9 [3, 4]. For Malaria, CRISPR is proposed to be utilized in the form of gene drives. Gene drives are a relatively new topic and it is an open area of research with limited literature. But let’s talk about what we know. What are gene drives? Gene drives utilize CRISPR to insert and spread genetic modifications through a population at an abnormally high rate. The gene drive will be engineered into an organism’s genome. The offspring will then inherit one chromosome from the gene drive parent and another normal one. During early development, the CRISPR portion of the drive finds and cleaves the normal gene out of the normal chromosome. The drive gene is then used as a template to synthesize a complementary strand on the formerly normal gene. This leads to the offspring inheriting two copies of the modified gene [5]. Since 2014, scientists have engineered CRISPR-based gene-drive systems in mosquitoes, fruit flies and fungi, and are currently developing them in mice [6]. Trials with mammals generally report a 70-75% success rate in accurate gene drive copying [6]. Although there is much research necessary, gene drives are on the path to success. How do CRISPR gene drives impact malaria treatment? There are 2 main proposed ways to insert gene drives into the mosquitoes. First, population control. This is where the drives are designed to spread female infertility due to alteration of the doublesex gene, where female mosquitoes cannot reproduce and thus cannot spread the plasmodium parasite throughout the population. This is strategic because it will drastically reduce mosquito population, mathematically reducing risk of contracting malaria [7]. The other approach is alteration. This is where the drives are designed to make mosquitoes resistant to the plasmodium parasite, thus not getting infected at all. These are strategic because they eliminate the spread of plasmodium, rather than just reduce mosquito population [7]. Let’s contrast standard inheritance and gene drive inheritance to recap. In standard inheritance, offspring get one copy of each parent’s chromosome, leading to a 50% chance of inheriting the mutation. With gene drives, the gene is present on both of the inherited chromosomes, leading to 100% chance of inheritance [6]. As you can see, gene drive inheritance is far more efficient to spread a mutation across a population. Where are we now in the development of this treatment? The World Health Organization has outlined a path of progression for CRISPR malaria treatment. The first stage is the laboratory. This is where gene drive research is now. This is where gene drives are being tested in a laboratory setting without being released anywhere [7]. The second stage is field testing. This is important because to ensure gene drives will actually work, they have to be tested outside of the lab setting, possibly in a large cage or island. Researchers report that they should be ready for this phase soon, in the next 1-5 years [7]. And then phase 3, coordinated releases. This is where the gene drive mosquitoes are released and observed while scientists will make changes if needed [7]. In order to do this, there are many steps to be taken. To begin with, countries with high malaria prevalence should develop insectaries. Tests should also be simulated with non gene drive mosquitoes before gene drive mosquitoes. This is to accurately get an understanding of the process. The exciting future of gene drives CRISPR gene drives are a very promising cure for malaria reduction. Since this is an active and novel innovation with great potential, more research should be coming. We should all be very optimistic about the future of CRISPR gene drives as a viable measure for malaria prevention. Works cited: [1] Mayo Clinic, . “Malaria.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, February 3, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/malaria/symptoms-causes/syc-20351184#:~:text=Malaria%20spreads%20when%20a%20mosquito,and%20infect%20red%20blood%20cells. [2] Roser, Max, and Hannah Ritchie. “Malaria.” Our World in Data, November 12, 2019. https://ourworldindata.org/malaria. [3] PLOS. “Safer CRISPR Gene Editing with Fewer off-Target Hits.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, July 9, 2020. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200709141619.htm. [4] Walsh, Michael. “How Can CRISPR Genome Editing Shape the Future of Cancer Research? - Cancer Research UK - Cancer News.” Cancer Research UK - Science blog, April 12, 2021. https://news.cancerresearchuk.org/2018/01/12/how-can-crispr-genome-editing-shape-the-future-of-cancer-research/. [5] Empinado, Hyacinth. What Is a Gene Drive? YouTube. YouTube, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75iP50LEHrU. [6] Scudellari, Megan. “Self-Destructing Mosquitoes and Sterilized Rodents: the Promise of Gene Drives.” Nature News. Nature Publishing Group, July 9, 2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02087-5. [7] Fong, Joss, and Matthews, Dylan. The Bold Plan to End Malaria with a Gene Drive. YouTube. YouTube, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0HPHUzsHbI.
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Varsha Shankar
Jun 18, 2021
In ARTICLES
Pretty girl. Smart boy. These phrases may just seem like commonplace in small talk. I remember every time my cousin and I would visit a new family friend together, my mother would always receive comments about what a ‘lovely girl’ and ‘pretty young lady’ I was, while my aunt would hear about her ‘smart son’ and ‘intelligent young man.’ To this day, this always intrigues me. My IQ is no lower than my male cousin’s, and there is no way he is any worse looking than me. Then why are the comments I get about my looks, while his are about his intelligence, strength, and bravery. Is that all I am? A pretty face? This experience is not unique to me. Society has often deemed women as nothing but pretty faces, underestimating our talents and skills. We are pushed aside when we have the capacity to change the world. Times are slowly changing, thanks to the women who have stepped up, refused to move from their seat on the bus, stood up to unequal pay, and promoted opportunities for women. Here is a tribute to ten wonderful women who have paved our way. Marie Curie- Marie Curie is famous for her research on radioactivity. She was born in Poland and resided in France. She won the Nobel Prize twice, being the only woman to do so in different fields. She is one of the women who paved the way for women because at her time, it was uncommon for women to even have opportunities in science. Curie, however, went to France all by herself, got herself a position in a laboratory, and made her way to the top, independently, becoming the first ever female recipient of the Nobel Prize, and creating revolutionary discoveries in the realms of medicine and science. Mother Teresa- Mother Teresa made her mark on the world through her humanitarian work for the poor in Bengal, India. Originally a Sister from Macedonia, she went to India in 1928 to teach at a school. She realized how poor the living conditions of the population there were, so she decided to adopt Indian citizenship and dress like the locals, in a Sari. She built a shrine for the terminally ill to recover, and helped the whole population survive through adversity, earning her a Nobel Peace Prize. She was canonized by Pope Francis I in 2016, and is a Saint. Oprah Winfrey- Oprah Winfrey, known to must as just ‘Oprah,’ is a television personality, noted for her self-titled show and her work in philanthropy. Even though Oprah is one of the most decorated celebrities, she had many terrors in her past. Born into a poor family in rural Mississippi, she was molested by many of her family members from the time she was only nine. After running away at the age of 13 due to years of abuse, she gave birth to a son who died prematurely when she was 14. However, Oprah didn’t let this stop her, and made education her priority, becoming an honors student and attending college. After years of hard work, her television career took off, and her inspiring message to girls spread. Michelle Obama- Michelle Obama is known for being the first African-American First Lady of the US. Growing up in Chicago, she was a star student, learning the piano, having top grades, and having student council positions. Although she faced gender-discrimination in school, she was able to persist and got admitted into Princeton, and later, Harvard Law. Today, she inspires girls of all races to keep going and never give up. She is also a LGBT rights and health activist. Malala Yousafzai- Malala Yousafzai is most well known for her activism for female education around the world. At age 15, she survived an assassination due to standing up to the Taliban for prohibiting women’s education in Pakistan. Since then, she has been extremely vocal in female education rights, starting her non-profit, Malala Fund. She is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, has written books, and continues to make an impact on the world. Lakshmibai- Lakshmibai, also known as Jhansi Ki Rani, was the queen of Jhansi, India. Even though women were thought of as commodities during her time, she trained martial arts, sword fighting, and riding as a girl. She refused to surrender Jhansi to the British, and fought a fierce battle to keep her state. She was dressed as a man to fight the British once again when she was killed in combat. Her strength and power have influenced the women of the world greatly. Rosa Parks- Rosa Parks, the woman who didn’t give up her seat on the bus, is famous for her civil rights activism. Before fame, she worked as a seamstress and was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Montgomery, Alabama. On December 5, 1955, she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and was arrested. After inspiring the bus boycott led by the Montgomery Improvement Association and Martin Luther King Jr., Parks became known as the ‘mother of the civil rights movement.’ For this, she received many important awards. Her legacy of empowering people of all races to have equal rights still inspires everyone. Ada Lovelace- Ada Lovelace is most well known as the first computer programmer. She was the daughter and Lord Byron and Lady Byron, the former a poet. She was educated by many private tutors as she was from a famous family, and early on, showed signs of being a technology and mathematical genius. Lovelace became interested in Charles Babbage’s machines and annotated articles about the Analytical Engine. Her annotations contained instructions on a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers using the Analytical Engine. Her work gave her the name of the first computer programmer and won her many accolades. She created the pathway to the world we have now. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the US Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district. She is the youngest woman to ever serve in US congress, and is a strong Democrat. Ocasio-Cortez grew up in the Bronx, New York, and is from a Puerto Rican family. From a young age, she has been involved in politics, becoming an intern to US Senator Ted Kennedy in college. Ocasio-Cortez has continued to make an impact on the world, with her social media presence. She advocates for environment protection, immigration issues, healthcare, anti-poverty, education, Puerto Rican affairs, and LGBTQ equality, inspiring people around the world to broaden their view and help the world become a better place. Patsy Takemoto Mink- Patsy Takemoto Mink is the first Asian-American woman elected to US Congress. After graduating UChicago, she became the first Japanese-American woman to practice law in Hawaii. She was a liberal Democrat and opposed the Vietnam War greatly. She also was a women’s rights activist, and worked to increase funding for women’s academic and athletic programs. Her legacy of encouraging people to work hard and follow their dreams still inspires many today. As you can see, girls have come a long way. Thanks to these remarkable women and countless others who bravely stepped up to make changes, girls like me have a platform to voice our opinions and make an impact. The future of feminism is certainly bright thanks to the empowering women who paved the way for future feminists! Source: https://www.britannica.com/
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Varsha Shankar
Apr 03, 2021
In ARTICLES
By Varsha Shankar November 21, 2020 Growing up, I was scared to death of getting shots. Every time I had to go to the dreaded doctor’s office for the annual flu shot, I would be panicking fervently and praying that somehow, it would get cancelled. This led me to the question: are vaccines even necessary? The answer to that question is yes. Vaccines are highly necessary to protect us from developing various diseases with adverse symptoms. How Do Vaccines Work? The short answer is that vaccines cause antibodies to develop.1 They inject antigens, or molecules that trigger immune responses, into your body. After these antigens are injected, our body creates antibodies to fight the antigen. The purpose of vaccines is to train our bodies to respond to viruses and combat them.2 Why Are Vaccines So Important? Let’s take influenza as an example. Also known as the flu, this virus was once considered a deadly disease because our immune systems were not trained to fight them off. However, the flu vaccine changed that. Because vaccines trained our bodies to recognize and fight off this virus, the virus became far less deadly. According to the CDC, 4.4 million flu illnesses were prevented in 2018-2019 and 2.3 million flu related medical visits.3 Not only are vaccines effective for influenza, but they also propose promising solutions to COVID-19. COVID-19, a leading cause of death in the United States, has left the public in fear of being infected. However, vaccines have a promising prospect in helping cure COVID-19. Furthermore, coronaviruses are in the same family as SARS and even the common cold, which means that scientists are already a step closer to developing a vaccine4. What Makes Vaccines Work? Coronaviruses have spike proteins on their surfaces, which bind to human cells.4 A vaccine could potentially be used to inhibit the protein from binding to the cell surface and prevent the virus from reproducing.4 This isn’t the only approach. Other approaches include activated vaccines, or injecting a mild version of the virus to stimulate an immune response, inactive vaccines, or injecting killed viruses for responses, and genetically engineered vaccines, where genetically modified RNA or DNA with instructions to make copies of the spike protein is injected, causing a response.4 These are just a couple of the immense possibilities that vaccines promise in treating COVID-19. Do Vaccines Cause Autism? Although vaccines are commonly administered, there are many people who oppose vaccines for various reasons. One main reason people oppose vaccines is because they believe that vaccines cause autism. They claim that Thimerosal, a common ingredient in vaccines, causes autism.5 However, this argument is frail for a couple of reasons. First, there are countless vaccines without Thimerosal for those who are concerned. Even considering that, the CDC itself proved that Thimerosal has no scientific connection to autism.5 Yes, every action poses at least a 0.00001% risk. That would mean we could never do anything, due to the ever present risk of harm. However, substantial research and trends prove that the risks associated with vaccines are extremely low and the benefits vastly outweigh. Why You NEED Vaccines All in all, vaccines have a positive track record in minimizing the impact of many of the deadliest diseases. They have been scientifically proven to save lives and hold possibilities for the future. This is especially important in the context of COVID-19, as vaccines are currently the most promising treatment. So next time you’re at the doctor’s office waiting to be vaccinated, try not to think of that prick of pain. Think about the fact that the vaccine could be saving your life and the lives of millions of others. Works Cited: 1CDC. “Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Oct. 2020, www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/keyfacts.htm. 2Public Health Staff Writers. “How Vaccines Work.” PublicHealth.org, PublicHealth.org, 22 Nov. 2019, www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/vaccines-work/. 3CDC. “Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do the Flu Vaccines Work?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm. 4Mayo Clinic. “Get the Facts about a COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Vaccine.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 20 Oct. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-vaccine/art-20484859. 5CDC. “Thimerosal FAQs.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Aug. 2020, www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal/faqs.html.
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