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January 2021

Hayden Roberge                                               Fatima Gonzalez

Students Explore Telehealth and Addiction, Understanding Epilepsy

The students in New Rochelle High School’s Science Research Program explore a dazzling range of topics under the mentorship of professional scientists from some of the top institutions of learning and exploration. Each week in this column, we’ll learn about two students’ activities. In January, researchers in grades 4 through 8, many of them mentored by the high school students, will present their research in the second annual Research Fair.


Hayden Roberge, Senior

Mentor: Dr. Kathlene Tracy and Leah Wachtel at the Tracy Laboratory of Psychosocial Processes in Addiction, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai


The COVID-19 pandemic has helped spotlight online health resources such as telehealth appointments and virtual counseling. But, as Hayden Roberge has found, web-based clinical treatment isn’t new. Roberge and her mentors identified key information such as the role demographics play in the success of such treatments, as well as the particular drugs that were found to have the most positive impact as a result.


Roberge has spent the past few months working alongside her mentors, Dr. Kathlene Tracy and Leah Wachtel, at the Tracy Laboratory of Psychosocial Processes in Addiction. She analyzed data from a 2003 clinical trial that tested the effectiveness of a web-based psychosocial treatment on substance-use disorders.


The study focused on web-based treatments, including individual therapy sessions, group therapy sessions and mindful-meditation practices for opioid abusers. The latter was found to be extremely important in helping trial participants with chronic pain, Roberge noted.


“We isolated patients who identified with opioid-use disorders and chronic pain to determine baseline differences within the population, and observed the effects of the behavioral treatment on the opioid use of the subset,” said Roberge.


The data analyzed by Roberge and her team were taken prior to the spread of COVID-19, which has exacerbated the opioid epidemic in the United States. Her findings have long-term implications.


“From this study, we learned that there are demographic differences between drug users regarding recreational drug use and psychiatric symptoms that need to be addressed in substance-abuse treatments in the future,” she said.


In addition to demographic differences such as race and age, Roberge found that when a drug called Benzodiazepines was used by trial participants, drug use significantly decreased after a period of virtual counseling.


“This study is to help to inform the discussion on web-based treatments for opioid-dependent individuals who may experience more pain-related concerns and require different treatment options to combat the complex interplay of pain and opioid use,” added Roberge.


Fatima Gonzalez, senior

Mentor: Dr. Libor Velisek, New York Medical College in Valhalla


Fatima Gonzalez’s research helped develop a better understanding of epilepsy, which afflicts one in 26 people. Over the past two summers, Gonzalez examined the brains of epileptic rats vs. non-epileptic rats looking for the presence of certain proteins to determine their impact.


In the summer of 2019, Gonzalez examined two specific regions of the brains for the presence of Interleukin 17 (IL-17). Working in a laboratory at New York Medical College in Valhalla, she sliced the rat brains and stained them with an immunohistochemistry (IHC) process to make the IL-17 identifiable.


“Once I did that, I used the microscope to take pictures of different brain regions,” she said.


She found that the prevalence of IL-17 correlated with a lack of seizures.


“That means IL-17 is a beneficial protein to have within the brain,” she said.


This past summer, unable to report to the lab in person because of COVID-19, she studied images her mentor sent, this time counting instances of IL-1beta, another protein. She continues to work with her mentor to determine what potential correlation the protein has with epilepsy.


Science has always been Gonzalez’s favorite subject. In college, she plans to major in it, likely with a medical focus. Her work in the Science Research Program adds to the collected knowledge of a condition that is difficult to control. There is no cure; medication helps suppress the seizures.


Gonzalez is glad that her research “helps our understanding a bit better,” she said.