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Alcohol and Zebrafish: An Interview With Emory Payne

Sara Bellum
December 10, 2013

Emory Payne is a senior at Bancroft School in Massachusetts. Emory and his lab partner, Zohaib Majaz, won the 2nd place 2013 Addiction Science Award. His project looked at a link between drinking alcohol while pregnant and the chance that it could increase a child’s risk for type 1 diabetes. After receiving his award, Emory told the writers of the Sara Bellum Blog about himself and his winning project.

What inspired you to research addiction science?

My lab partner and I chose to do a science fair project on ethanol because it is the type of alcohol that humans drink. We decided to look at how alcohol affected the people around the user, not the user him- or herself. This allowed us to also look at another interest of ours, diabetes. After understanding how destructive alcohol can be on human cells, we developed an experiment to see how a mother’s drinking could affect the health of her child.

What were the most exciting and challenging aspects of doing the research you submitted to the Addiction Science Awards?

What I’ve said to everyone is that going into a real lab and getting to put on a lab coat and some gloves felt like the coolest thing ever. That being said, the idea of doing research as a high schooler that could turn into research that could affect someone’s life felt really exciting. I loved feeling so passionate and dedicated to going into a lab every day and looking at a bunch of glowing fish. I couldn’t wait to share our research with other people. It was nice to feel like I was accomplishing my own goals and now I can’t believe how far it has taken me. I’m so happy I put in the hard work and it has paid off ten-fold (at least).

It was not always such a smooth road. With such a temperamental model organism as the Zebrafish, I think it may be impossible for everything to go right. In my lab notebook I wrote, “Unfortunately, the embryos did not make it to today. This feasibility experiment clearly did not work, and it feels like a huge setback. I’m not excited to start over again.”

I remember clearly thinking that maybe this project was not going to work. The biggest challenge of the project was having to go back and start over again. 

 Do you plan to continue researching addiction?

I am not sure yet. I am exploring other fields, specifically in cancer research focusing on DNA repair. Addiction science was a lot of fun, even though our project wasn’t directly related. I am extremely interested in expanding my knowledge of type 1 diabetes, but recently have been having a lot of ideas pertaining to addiction science. I am particularly interested in drugs that calm the effects of withdrawal symptoms. However, health is my overall interest; I would love to help improve someone’s life through their health.

Do you plan to pursue a career in science?

Right now, I plan to study biology in college. Though I’m not sure if I am more interested in the research or clinical side of health, I fully intend to pursue my interest in medicine.

Do you have any recommendations for high school students who may be interested in conducting their own research?

If you want your research to be successful or make a difference, you will have to put in the time and hard work. I’m still working on both of those things, but from putting so much work into just this project, I can tell you it was well worth it. From my experience, it was fulfilling because I went through every step, from getting an idea and writing up a plan to presenting across the country.

Comments

It's so encouraging to see young, bright individuals committed to and inspired by quality, evidence-centered research surrounding substance use disorders. Keep up the good work!

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