Who We Are
Voices of DSHA

Real Life Research by a High School Senior

In honor of the class of 2019, two outstanding young women from the class were profiled in the April edition of the Word. Hear from Morgan Martin, DSHA ’19, about her research at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the immeasurable opportunities DSHA has given her over her four years. 
Q: What are your top three favorite things/moments about your DSHA education?

A: 1. Vocare for sure. I cannot wait to go back to Curative Care. I’ve done a lot of service, and have loved tutoring kids, but this experience helped me realized how much I want to help people in the medical profession. I was able to work with adults with disabilities. I want to do neurological research in college––and this helped connect the science to the human side of that work.

2. The assemblies that are multi-cultural in nature. Dasher Dialogues help promote awareness for anyone who is underrepresented; the Best Buddies assembly too. It is really important to have these open dialogues before we get out in the real world. We’re exposed to so many different perspectives here. When you piece together classes like Ethnicities & American Literature with Catholic Social Teaching, and then the assemblies and service, you can see the whole picture––and everything makes more sense. I love it.

3. Academics and education as a whole. Everyone wants to do well and push themselves. Individual drive and the way the school pushes us. Teachers do so much to expose us to different opportunities –– even outside of the classroom.”
Q: Who has been the most influential teacher of staff person for you at DSHA?

A: Ms. (Cathy) Loehr (science faculty) has done so much for me. She knows my passion and drive. My sophomore year in her chemistry class I did a re- search project on Alzheimers. I was fascinated and this was the moment I knew I would go into neuroscience. She also introduced me to SUPREMES (Students Understanding Principles of Research through Medicine, Engineering, and Science) at the Medical College of Wisconsin and became my teacher sponsor. She’s always checking in on me and the research that am doing at the medical college.
Q: Looking back, what assurance would you give to your freshmen self about your DSHA experience?

A: Chill out –– you’re going to do great! You will make a lot of life-long friends. And you will have opportunities you wouldn’t have anywhere else. Like 100 hours of biomedical research that will affect Type-1 Diabetes research. You will be the first person to do this –– and it will be really hard, but worth it.
Q: What are your plans following graduation in May?

A: I'm attending Hampton University in Virginia to study psychology and neuroscience. And then I plan to go to medical school. I’ve been thinking about Peace Corp–– which I learned about in Ms. (Chriss) Laemmar’s Focus Africa class–– or Doctors without Borders. The two parts of my education have formed my dreams for the future –– both service and science. And I love that I’ve been able to start both now because of DSHA.


More from Morgan on her research at the Medical College of Wisconsin:

Both Mrs. Loehr, my Chemistry teacher and Mr. Lynch, my guidance counselor, encouraged me to pursue summer internship programs at the Medical College of Wisconsin. In my Chemistry class sophomore year, I was introduced to scientific research through a research assignment about a current topic in science. I attribute my interest in neuroscience to the report I wrote on Alzheimer's disease.

The brain is so complex and there is a lot that we do not know about its structure and functions. This is why 
I took advantage of the opportunity to conduct individualized biomedical research at the Medical College of Wisconsin. I wanted to focus on incidences of stroke and its causes, but eventually, this shifted to the genetic predisposition to vascular weakness and hemorrhage that occurs in the early stages of life. A brain hemorrhage is bleeding that occurs in or around the brain. This sort of hemorrhage is clinically associated with a stroke, however, this study is specifically focused on neonatal brain hemorrhage. In most cases, a stroke occurs when part of the brain loses its blood supply, causing the part of the body that the injured brain controls to stop working.

Endothelial cells comprise the innermost layer of blood vessels; pericytes are a specialized population of cells that surround the outermost layer of mature blood vessels. Platelet-derived growth factor receptor beta (PDGFRẞ) plays a key role in EC-pericyte signaling, which is crucial to stabilizing newly formed capillaries. This expression of this gene results in pericyte recruitment to capillaries. Impaired pericyte function yields leaky capillaries that are prone to rupture and bleeding. Deficiencies of brain pericytes are associated with neonatal intracranial hemorrhage in human fetuses, as well as stroke and neurodegeneration in adults. Despite the important functions of brain pericytes, the mechanisms underlying their development are not well understood and little is known about how pericyte density is regulated across the brain. The findings from this study will increase understandings of the mechanistic role of PDGFRB regarding pericyte recruitment, and furthermore how they improve vascular stability

It never occurred to me that I could do research of this magnitude in high school and I am so glad that the faculty at DSHA encouraged me to do so. 

I am grateful for the positive environment that the school provides. I feel that it truly fosters individual growth and personally, I gained confidence in my abilities during high school and I wholeheartedly attribute this growth to my experience at DSHA. Furthermore, I was shown another opportunity to do research in a professional environment. During my junior year, Mrs. Loehr exposed me, and my other classmates, to a very new year-long program at the Medical College of Wisconsin.  

Currently, through the program recommended by Mrs. Loehr, I am researching Type One Diabetes in the McGee Diabetes Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Type One Diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease that arises through T-cell mediated destruction of the insulin-producing pancreatic β cells. A significant increase in T1D incidence has been observed in recent decades, now affecting 1.25 million Americans. The epidemiologic changes in T1D have been too rapid to be attributed to genetic shifts, supporting the idea that the observed changes are due to increased environmental pressure. Some non-genetic factors involved may include increased antibiotic use, consumption of the highly processed western diet, food additives, and birth by cesarean section. These factors all potentially influence the composition of the gut microbiota, which influences immune function. Wheat products are a significant part of the modern diet, and gluten, the main protein found in wheat, is now associated with several autoimmune diseases. Alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitors (ATI), proteins that co-purify with gluten, have recently been shown to activate toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) on immune cells.  

TLR4’s most noted function is to bind bacterial endotoxin which in turn triggers innate inflammation. As such, ATI may exacerbate an antigen-specific adaptive immune response in those susceptible to autoimmune diseases. Current evidence points to ATI as a driving force for intestinal inflammation, suggesting a link between diet and the innate inflammation observed in both the T1D Bio Breeding (BB) rat model and T1D families. In addition, the TLR4 receptor pathway seems to be more activated in T1D BB Rats and T1D families. The first focus of this study will be to isolate ATI from wheat products and produce ATI using a recombinant protein expression system. Purified ATI will be checked for the predicted molecular weight (SDS PAGE), and then functionally tested using genetically engineered HEK293 cells that express measurable alkaline phosphatase upon activation of TLR4 pathways. Findings should help define environmental factors that affect T1D pathogenesis and treatment.

Throughout my time at DSHA, I have felt endless support from staff members and my peers, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to come to this school. Had I not attended DSHA, I would not have acquired the same accolades as I have today. 


Divine Savior Holy Angels High School

Sponsored by the Sisters of the Divine Savior
© 2017 Divine Savior Holy Angels High School. All Rights Reserved