18-Year-Old Harvard Freshman Electrifies Scientists on Second Day of American Society for Exosomes and Microvesicles (ASEMV) 2017 Annual Meeting in Asilomar, California

On Monday, October 9, Indrani Das, an 18-year-old freshman at Harvard, electrified a crowd of 200 established scientists at the ASEMV 2017 Annual Meeting with the description of her exosome research that won the Regeneron 2017 United States Science Talent Search Grand Prize of $250,000 (this is the nation's oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors--previous sponsors of the Talent Search were Westinghouse and Intel) (photo shows Indrani on the day her prize was awarded). Comments heard after Indrani’s Asilomar presentation included “brilliant,” “powerful,” “incredible.” Her winning project was titled “Exosomal MicroRNA-124s: Novel Translational Reactive Astrocyte Repair in Vitro.” Indrani’s early interest in neurodegenerative diseases and brain injury therapy had provided the impetus for her four-year high school study of exosomes as she had learned that these vesicles can pass through the blood-brain barrier and might perhaps be used to provide therapeutic cargo to sites of brain injury. She knew that stroke, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease all cause the behavior of glial cells to change dramatically, in particular to cause a phenomenon called reactive astrogliosis. Healthy astrocytes take up glutamate, an essential excitatory neurotransmitter, from their surroundings, but, in reactive astrogliosis, this process breaks down and glutamate accumulates in the extracellular space where it can damage surrounding neurons. In fact, neurons die when exposed to the medium that reactive astrocytes are grown in. Indrani knew that the excitatory amino acid transporter EAAT2 is one of the major glutamate transporters expressed predominantly in astrocytes and is responsible for 90% of total glutamate uptake.
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