May 18, 2021

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One student harnessed the power of beets to make recovery from surgery safer and more equitable

One student harnessed the power of beets to make recovery from surgery safer and more equitable


The Iowa student has dedicated her life to working on equity, from serving as one of her school district’s diversity equity leaders to participating in her high school’s Black History Game Show club.
But when her first-year chemistry teacher at Iowa City West High School, Carolyn Walling, was recruiting students for the Science Fair club, Taylor signed up, fascinated by the prospect of answering her research question and incorporating equity. economics in science trying to do it. remove financial barriers to medical care.

More than a year later, he is seeking a patent for a creation he has painstakingly curated in his high school chemistry lab – color-changing dots that indicate when a wound is infected.

The key to its success? Covering the spots with beetroot juice.

“I dabble in science,” Taylor, who is now an elder, told CNN. “It was an amazing experience because I have never researched this project before.”

Since he began competing on the science fair circuit in February 2020, his beet juice-coated sutures have won numerous regional titles. In January, Taylor was among the top 40 finalists out of nearly 1,800 candidates in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the “oldest and most prestigious national science and math competition for high school students.”

Braces aren’t what matters, he says. Now, it focuses on making sure the sutures actually help people.

“Equity work has my heart, and that’s what I want to do for my career,” Taylor said. “I intend to continue my research and make sure this project is released and that people actually get this discovery, and it will save lives.”

He wanted to make new inventions fair

Taylor stitches are a remake of “smart sutures,” stitches that use intelligent technology to detect when wounds are infected. Always looking through an equity lens, Taylor realized that this new technology may not be easily accessible to disadvantaged populations already struggling to get affordable surgical care. About 5 billion people lack access to surgical care worldwide, with 9 out of 10 people struggling to access basic surgical services in low- and middle-income countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) found.

“I classify my research as where fairness meets science,” Taylor said. “The people who are really going to need (smart sutures) won’t be able to afford it … so I decided to take it and run with it and make something affordable.”

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About 11 percent of patients undergoing surgery in low- and middle-income countries suffer from surgical site infections (SSIs), the WHO found in 2016. Taylor was particularly keen to help African women undergoing caesarean section, as over 20% of African women receive SSI during such surgeries.

Its points work using simple chemistry. While human skin is naturally acidic, or around a pH of 5, Taylor explained, infected wounds have a basic pH, which means it is 8 or higher. A natural indicator – in this case, a beetroot blend – can change color based on the pH of something.

Beets change color “very quickly” just when skin pH becomes basic, Taylor found, changing from a healthy light purple to a darker magenta as pH increases – the “perfect,” natural indicator, he said. After creating variations of a beetroot blend, Taylor combined the dye with sutures to create an object that could detect infection at the correct pH levels, completing Phase 1 of his research by February 2020.

He excelled in the competition

After taking the sutures to competition in February 2020, the invention was an instant success. At his first competition, the Regional Symposium for Junior and Science Humanities, Taylor said he “dominated,” taking home first place and numerous other awards.

Taylor attributed his success in large part to Walling’s help. Walling, who has been recruiting students for science fairs for nearly 10 years, told CNN it’s the first time he’s seen a student go this far in competitions.

“The reason she did the way she did in my opinion is that she was just interested, like she keeps wanting to know why and how it can work and what we can do with it,” Walling explained.

Despite the limitations of the pandemic, Walling recalled that Taylor was determined to continue her research. He worked with administrators to use the chemistry lab in August, incorporating feedback from the judges from the previous season and starting Phase 2 of his research.

Taylor also sought information from University of Iowa microbiologist Theresa Ho, after realizing that beets have antibacterial properties.

After reaching the top 40 in the Regeneron competition, the other finalists voted for Taylor to receive the Seaborg Award, allowing her to speak on behalf of the 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search Class.

And his work has inspired others

Now that the competition season is over, Taylor’s research has received numerous praise since she entered the national and international scientific arena.

Taylor recalled how a Massachusetts elementary teacher asked her students to read about Taylor’s work and write a paragraph about why she inspired them. After receiving a 24-page document from the teacher with all the students’ thoughts, Taylor said she cried.

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“I consider changing the world by inspiring the next person, as if I can inspire someone to do something great, that’s what success is on my mind,” said Taylor.

Although Taylor plans to major in political science on a pre-law path, he encourages anyone with the slightest interest in science to pursue it, saying, “If you’re curious about something, do some research.”

In this spirit of discovery, Taylor encouraged her hometown children to engage with science, from hosting a children’s science program with her local public library to holding Zoom discussions with elementary school students. But Taylor isn’t just a source of inspiration for kids; Walling said Taylor “inspires her” and everyone else around him.

“She doesn’t just push herself to be better, she wants everyone to be better,” Walling said.

“It’s just great to see how I’m already changing the world by being myself, having fun and exploring my intellectual horizons,” said Taylor. “I never knew I would do all this at 17.”