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Researchers explore IBD + Chinese art

Bella Dennis ‘20 poses with her research poster.

Bella Dennis ‘20 is studying inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, as a part of the Honors Research in Science program. She is currently working at a lab at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles with mentors Dr. Mark Frey and Dr. Michael Schumacher. There, she is studying growth hormone receptors in the DNA of mice and how these receptors can limit the symptoms of IBD, due to which the immune system responds incorrectly to environmental triggers.

This is Dennis’s second year in the Honors Research program but her first year working with colonoids, small model representations of the colon that make it easier to study IBD by letting researchers simulate its real-life effects.

“We’re putting the inflammatory cytokines on the colonoid, and we’re seeing how the stem cells differentiate,” Dennis said. “The more time I spend in the lab, the more complex it gets.”

Dennis was inspired to participate in Honors Research and study IBD when her uncle passed away due to Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. While working in the lab, she developed a genuine interest in studying the immune system, which she hopes to continue pursuing in the future.

“I think that studying disease gives someone a reason to do what they’re doing. I’m really interested in it, but it also feels like I’m doing some good,” Dennis said. “I know for a fact that I’m definitely going to [continue] research in college.”

Dennis said the most rewarding part of the Honors Research program is her ability to work in an independent and self-directed manner.

“I never thought that I would be at school half the time and be at a hospital the other half of the time, working,” Dennis said. “I feel like that’s the most rewarding thing: being able to take a step back and realize how much independence you gained.

Chela Simon-Trench ‘21 works with artist Zhang Ding.

Chela Simon- Trench ‘21 is studying contemporary art in China and the ways in which Chinese artists use abstract artwork to rebel against censorship laws. She is working with Geraldine Fiss, a professor of East Asian studies at the University of Southern California.

Simon-Trench underscored the importance of adopting nuanced interpretations of Chinese art.

“I’m looking at this super abstract art and trying to find out if there’s covert or overt rebellion in the work,” Simon-Trench said. “But I can’t go in there with this idea that all Chinese contemporary art is rebellious or that they rebel against the government. That’s not the only thing that exists in Chinese culture.”

Simon-Trench lived in China for two years during 5th and 6th Grade. She was inspired to learn more about the country and its culture after coming to Marlborough.

“It all started in 8th Grade,” Simon-Trench said. “We were studying China, reading Red Scarf Girl and… I had all these firsthand experiences with censorship in China. I understood it better than everyone in the room.”

This first-hand experience has proven useful in conducting research.

“Lots of people are scared of China,” Simon-Trench said. “I felt like I had to bring some part of the China that I love back to people.”

According to Simon-Trench, her favorite part of participating in Honors Research is the opportunity to take a deep dive into one subject and become an expert in that field.

“I like having this Honors Research program because it’s a moment where I can specialize in what I’m doing in high school,” Simon-Trench said. “Being able to research something so in-depth and know a lot about it is really powerful. And it’s building my story.”

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