Viera High student finds UF Science Training Program rewarding


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Viera High senior Nivetha Aravind took part in the 59th annual Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida during the summer.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

With a mother, father and sister who already are doctors, it could be said that choosing a career path in medicine would only come naturally for Viera High senior Nivetha Aravind.

That’s what made this summer so special.

The 17-year-old spent seven weeks at the University of Florida taking part in the 59th annual Student Science Training Program. The residential research participation program is designed for academically-talented upper-level high school students interested in pursuing a career in the STEM field.

“Basically, what I did was I was able to conduct research in a real laboratory under a principal investigator,” Aravind said. “That was a really cool new experience.”

Working under the supervision of Dr. Arun Srivastava in the UF College of Medicine, Aravind worked on a research project titled “Potential Gene Therapy of Human Liver Cancer with Recombinant AAV3 Flp-FRT vectors.’’

“Basically, what we’re trying to do is there is a virus that’s nonpathogenic, meaning it does not cause disease in humans,” Aravind said. “We’re using that virus to deliver therapeutic DNA to liver cancer. That way, just the liver cancer cells are affected and the normal cells are unharmed.

“It’s not necessarily new, but for this particular virus and this particular cancer we’re treating, it’s a new way of doing it.”

The study specifically targeted a type of liver cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma. Aravind said it usually is diagnosed late and patients are given up to a year to live.

“I just worked on one part of (the project), which was trying to insert a certain gene sequence into the liver cancer cells,” she said. “For about every one million that we inserted, about 150 got integrated into their genome, which doesn’t necessarily seem like much. But since we were expecting zero, 150 is a lot.”

Should the gene therapy ultimately prove to be successful, Aravind said it could have a huge impact on not just cancer, but for any disease caused by a genetic mutation such as Sickle Cell Anemia, Muscular Dystrophy or Huntington’s disease.

Aravind, who plans to go to medical school, found the UF Student Science Training Program, and especially the project she participated in inspiring.

“That was an awesome experience, just to know I was a part of that,” she said. “To know that this could go on to help so many people have a longer life, and a better quality of life was really rewarding.”