Sparking scientists early: Genetics night at Bellaire High School

I believe in the importance of exposing high school students to science early on, and I think it is especially important to move them beyond their textbooks to experience interaction with physician-scientists, like I did growing up.

So for the past five years, I have been working with local high school students to do just that. Last week, we held our fifth annual “Genetics Night” event in partnership with Bellaire High School and its advanced placement biology class.

Dr. Fernando Scaglia
Dr. Fernando Scaglia

Students from the class participated in a poster session discussion on various genetic diseases such as Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and MELAS syndrome. The students study a particular disorder and educate their peers on the disorder, the involved gene mutation or chromosomal abnormality-related symptoms and research advances.

One of the most rewarding moments of the event occurred when one of the students expressed interest in going into medicine and eventually becoming a geneticist.

If I can motivate one young student to consider a career in research or become a physician-scientist involved in genetics or other science-related fields, I feel like I am contributing to the future of science.

With the current revolution in genomics, the increasing relevance of personalized genomic medicine and the advent of new diagnostic and research tools, such as next-generation sequencing panels and  exome  sequencing—our BCM’s Department of Genetics is a pioneer in this area with the BCM Human Genome Sequencing Center and the BCM Medical Genetics Laboratories—it is imperative that students start studying genetics earlier.

Personally, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in genetics when I was introduced to the field by a dedicated high school biology teacher in Argentina. It was the early exposure to the subject of Mendelian genetics (often rare, single-gene diseases) that really fascinated me and sparked my passion early on.

This passion brought me to the United States in 1992, after graduating from medical school, to further my training in pediatrics and genetics at the Emory University School of Medicine and, ultimately, to a career as a pediatric geneticist and clinical researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

I believe that scientific innovation and staying competitive in the current world of science depends on attracting young minds to pursue scientific careers.

-By Dr. Fernando Scaglia

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