Rockaway Youth Wins Prestigious Award
By Howard Schwach
Not too many high school seniors are interested in how Secretin, a gastro-intestinal hormone, affects the brain. A Belle Harbor youth is interested in which parts of the brain are impacted by the hormone, and that interest has won him a slot as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search (formerly called the Westinghouse Talent Search).
Adam Kapelner, a senior at Midwood High School, became interested in how Secretin related to children with Autism when he read a journal on the subject.
"Five years ago, I read an article about an autistic child who got Secretin for gut problems – problems with his stomach and the secretion into the pancreas – and then showed memory improvement," Kapelner told The Wave. "It really interested me and I wanted to find out which area of the brain was impacted by the hormone."
"Then," he added, "I wanted to take that finding and relate it to the treatment of autism."
Kapelner believes that his study may eventually resolve not only the problems that autistic children have with their gut, but with the social intelligence problem as well.
Adam was assisted and guided in his study by Dr. Annette Kirchgessner, a Professor at SUNY Downstate, who also has a doctorate in neural science.
"I read her work on the subject, and she has guided me through this study," Adam says.
In addition, Adam was guided by his dad, Dr. Stephen Kapelner.
He hopes that he and Dr. Kirchgessner will publish his findings in a professional journal. He also plans to propose some research projects that he hopes will further medical knowledge in this area.
While his study of rat’s brains was "inconclusive," he hopes that further studies will help to clarify his findings.
"There are lots of questions to be answered," he says, "but it is just possible that we might one day remediate autism."
"Using the hormone works with some kids and not with others," he adds. "We have to find out why that is true."
Adam will "most likely" attend Cal Tech in Pasadena California, next year. He hopes to major in engineering and minor in science.
As one of 300 semi-finalists in the nation, Adam will receive a $1,000 prize.
There are six semi-finalists from Midwood High School alone.
In a few weeks, the judges will chose 40 finalists. The candidates will then be ranked from one to forty.
The top prize is $100 thousand.
Does Adam think that he has a shot at the top prize?
"All of the semi-finalists have a possible shot," he says with a smile.