With the national Toshiba ExploraVision Science Project drawing 15,000 submissions from coast to coast, including a few thousand in their age group, the four Jesuit High School freshmen knew they would have to do something special to make theirs stand out. Just 3% of entrants would receive Honorable Mention recognition.
So Lucas Alvarado ’21, Viet Ho ’21, Frankie Machado ’21, and Joey Santana ’21 (L-R on the homepage) developed an ambitious vision for their project: Taking adult skin cells and turning them into stem cells. Then using those stem cells in a 3D printing process to grow a perfect replacement organ.
Early this semester, the quartet of young scientists took two special visits to the University of South Florida. The first, at the main campus, involved touring the 3D cell bioprinting facilities there, learning about the incredible advancements in this technique for generating human tissue through additive layers of human cells.
Then they went to downtown Tampa to visit USF’s state-of-the-art physician training site, the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS). There, the students explored and learned about the various medical training facilities and engaged with medical students in training during a private tour led by CAMLS director Paul Ayres.
The team project was titled “ZR Organs: 3D Printing for Life” (ZR stands for zero rejection). It created an internal scaffold out of 3D printed bio-material to grow a heart from the person needing the transplant out of their stem cells. Those stem cells can come from skin cells and are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC). Taking the adult cells and turning them into stem cells, and then using those stem cells in a 3D printing process to grow a perfect replacement organ.
Adult mentors are an essential part of the ExploraVision competition. Jesuit biology teacher Amy Martin was their teacher mentor, and Santana’s mother, Monica Santana, served as the parent mentor.
“These young men pushed themselves further by researching current, past, and future technologies, by visiting science where it is being developed, and by interviewing key scientists to help guide them in this vision,” Martin said.
The Santanas had experienced success in the ExploraVision competition before. As a middle school student, Joey Santana led a team that took 2nd place overall in its age group for a project about powering a shoreline desalination plant with renewable energy provided by the elliptical motion of waves crashing on the shore.
Santana earned $5,000 toward college, a trip to White House Science Fair, where, among others, he met Bill Nye, and a trip to New York City, where his team made a presentation at Madison Square Garden as part of WE Day with the international charity WE. Santana also was honored with an 11-day global mission trip this summer in Ecuador. Among other things, Santana will visit several Ecuadoran villages where he will help build well and water systems.
With the ExploraVision project at Jesuit this spring, Machado’s mother, Dr. Lucy Guerra, also was instrumental. Dr. Guerra, who is a Division Director and Associate Professor in the College of Internal Medicine at USF, helped the Jesuit science team develop the relationships with the USF scientists and physicians that helped the team develop expertise with the concepts in their project. Dr. Guerra and Dr. Shawn Bingham '94, the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs in the USF Honors College, accompanied the group on its exploration of CAMLS.
When the final results came in, the Jesuit team had just missed out on top honors, but did earn Honorable Mention recognition, one of just 11 from this region of the country.
“It was an amazing learning and growing experience,” Alvarado said. “We all have a desire to use science to help people, and through this competition we were able to learn an incredible amount about the breakthroughs in creating replacement organs. It has made us just more excited to pursue science projects in the future, to see what sort of impact we can make.”
Martin, who has all four project team members in her biology class, was excited by the students’ initiative.
“To watch these young men seek out a problem in society and come up with a theoretical answer to solve it was inspiring,” Martin said. “I have been amazed at the growth and mastery of understanding they achieved through this process and am proud of their achievement. It is a true testament to their hard work.”
To learn more about the ExploraVision competition, click here.
To learn more about WE.org and the Innovators Challenge program that is sending Santana to Ecuador this summer, click here.
View a photo slideshow below of the team's visits to the USF CAMLS facility downtown and the USF 3D cell bioprinting facility.