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Jefferson senior an Intel finalist for Lyme disease research

Temple Douglas of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has proposed a faster way to test for Lyme disease.
Temple Douglas of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has proposed a faster way to test for Lyme disease. (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/fairfax County Times)

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By Holly Hobbs
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, February 4, 2010

A high school senior's research paper on Lyme disease is getting national recognition for proposing a method of early detection that cuts diagnosis time from a month to mere minutes.

"We're going to develop a new diagnostic test so that we can detect it earlier and more accurately," said Temple Douglas, 18, of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria.

Douglas was recently named one of 40 finalists nationwide in the Intel Science Talent Search, an annual contest sponsored by Intel that scouts for research conducted by high school seniors in science, health and technology.

She received a $5,000 scholarship for the ranking, a laptop and a chance to compete in March in Washington for a $100,000 scholarship.

Douglas said her research was inspired by three relatives' struggles with Lyme disease.

"My sister and brother had joint pain, but my mom had more severe symptoms," she said.

Almost half the cases of Lyme disease in Virginia are reported in Loudoun County, where Douglas lives. A resident of Lucketts, she buses 90 minutes to her Fairfax County school each day.

Students at Thomas Jefferson must do a senior research paper. Douglas chose Lyme disease for hers.

"At the end of the summer, I was thinking of the testing and its inaccuracies and what could be improved," she said.

Currently, blood tests are used to detect Lyme disease.

"Now, you have to wait for antibodies to show up [in your blood]. That can take up to three weeks," Douglas said.

Her research paper, "The Application of Hydrogel Nanoparticles for Early Lyme Disease Diagnosis," proposes using a urine test instead.

"Nanoparticles are added to the urine to allow you to see the bacteria," she said.

Staff and teachers at Thomas Jefferson said they are not surprised by Douglas's successful ranking.

"As a student, Temple was very inquisitive and enthusiastic," said teacher Robert Latham, the school's science and engineering fair coordinator. "The choice of what to do after high school or college rests with Temple, but from the experience gained in her scientific project work and from the maturity developed in writing a scholarly scientific research paper, she has demonstrated high-level skills that would make her very successful as a research scientist or in a related field.

"I would like to see her win a Nobel prize."

Douglas has been accepted to several colleges, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Principal Evan Glazer had similar praise for Douglas, saying, "Her work is inspiring because she pursued groundbreaking work in a topic that could help her family."

Twelve of Douglas's fellow students were named semifinalists in the contest this month, each receiving a $1,000 prize for themselves and $1,000 for their school.

Last year, two Jefferson students were finalists in the Intel competition, Alexander Kim and Narendra Tallapragada.

Of the D.C. conference in March, Douglas said she is excited and nervous to compete, adding that she would find it "neat" to meet President Obama.

"The kids last year got to meet Obama," she said.

Douglas said she hopes to one day assist in the efforts to find a cure for cancer.


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