Student excels at prestigious internship

Yale Medical School's prestigious Discovery to Cure Internship aims to "promote interest in science and medicine" among its participants, but for Wilton High School's Adriana Ackerman, who was accepted into this year's highly selective summer program, a passion for medicine was already deeply ingrained.

Her mother was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2000. High-dose chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant were effective in ridding her body of cancer, but badly damaged her respiratory system, and in 2002 she was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a hardening of the lungs.

After undergoing a double-lung transplant surgery at Columbia Medical Center four years ago, Ms. Ackerman continues to play a guiding influence in Adriana's professional dreams.

"It's been great watching her grow," Ms. Ackerman said. "She has a deep resolve to making a dent in eradicating diseases that are devastating families," she said.

While undergoing photopheresis blood treatment at Yale, a dermatologist recommended to Ms. Ackerman that Adriana should look into Yale's summer internship, a six-month research program geared towards incoming high school seniors. It was created in 2003 to "expose talented students" from local high schools to Yale's biomedical laboratories and "open their minds to future career opportunities."

Adriana, only 16 years old, said her passion for science stems from a familiarity with the side effects and complications inherent in medicine, from which she found a worthy life pursuit: finding a way to alleviate treatment complications and improve medical care.

Adriana was one of 25 — out of a recommended group of 125 — accepted into the program, and she credits her counselor at Wilton High School, Daniel Katz; her AP biology teacher, Kate Eckenrode; and James Lucey of the science department, who advocated for her as a Wilton High School representative in the competitive application process.

In July, she attended orientation day, impressed by principal investigator Robert Meam's highly specialized research proposal to explore how K5 proteins can impact oxygen supply in the mitochondria and cause Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancerous tumor.

Adriana said a lot of her ability to keep up with the advanced level of research was based on her AP biology experience at Wilton High, where she studied viruses, cellular respiration, molecular biology, and genetics, a chapter she said was especially important.

The high school labs also provided her the opportunity to participate in gel electrophoresis and bacterial transformation, which helped bring genetic theory into practice.

At Yale Medical School, Adriana has access to medical libraries and robust laboratories, and found it both exciting and intimidating.

"It's really fantastic, but a bit overwhelming," she said. "A lot of participants are going for Ph.Ds."

Reflecting on her tenure thus far at Wilton High, Adriana said the science programs are "far superior" to what is expected at public schools.

Adriana will receive a certificate of accomplishment and present her research at the end of the month.

"We're very proud of her. She has been working and studying so hard," said Russ Ackerman, Adriana's father.