Dana Neugut of Teaneck has won a $25,000 scholarship for a scientific research project on the effects of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh.
One of the 2009 valedictorians at The Frisch School in Paramus, Dana participated in a large laboratory-based study at Columbia University related to the phenomenon. She also spent her junior-year winter vacation in Bangladesh visiting a clinic and observing as samples were gathered and interviews conducted with some of the 11,000 participants in her study.
Bringing along tuna packets and self-heating kosher meals, Neugut remained in her hotel room over Shabbat in the largely Muslim South Asian country. “It was very different,” she acknowledged. “I even had to bring along the stuff you could normally eat, such as fruit. It’s not healthy there because of bacteria.”
|Dana Neugut in a lab at Frisch. Aaron Keigher|
The team she accompanied also included her father, Alfred, a medical oncologist and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia. He was working on a different aspect of the same project.
As she explained in an interview with CBS Radio’s Wayne Cabot, UNICEF dug many wells two decades ago to provide additional drinking water for the more than 100 million Bangladeshis. Some 10 years ago, it was discovered that the wells had inadvertently tapped into a natural arsenic reservoir deep in the ground. Arsenic is a highly toxic metal that sharply increases the risk of lung cancer, skin lesions, and heart disease.
“My project focused on one-carbon metabolism, a cycle the body uses to change inorganic arsenic into the less toxic arsenic metabolites, which can be eliminated from the body,” said Dana. “The results of my study imply that supplementation with creatine, which is another product of one-carbon metabolism, may be an effective way to prevent and treat long-term arsenic exposure.”
Levels of arsenic in Bangladeshi water are among the highest in the world.
Dana’s paper, “A Study of Arsenic Metabolism and Renal Function in an Arsenic-Exposed Population in Bangladesh,” not only garnered her the scholarship from the Davidson Fellows program of the Nevada-based Davidson Institute for Talent Development but also a $2,000 scholarship from the Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition sponsored by the College Board and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In addition, Dana was named one of 300 semifinalists (one of 15 from New Jersey) among 1,608 contestants in the highly competitive international Intel Science Talent Search. She received $1,000; an additional $1,000 was given to Frisch to further excellence in science, math, and engineering.
Dana has just begun a year of Torah study at Israel’s Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women (Migdal Oz), but will be flown to Washington by the Davidson Institute at the end of September for a special reception with members of Congress. The institute’s stated mission is to “recognize, nurture and support profoundly intelligent young people and to provide opportunities for them to develop their talents to make a positive difference.”
In September 2010, Dana expects to begin her studies at Columbia, where she hopes to major in chemistry.