After winning a state science fair & becoming a finacác mục in a national competition, Dasia Taylor now has her sights phối on a patent

Seventeen-year-old Dasia Taylor was named one of 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country’s oldest and most prestigious science & math competition for high school seniors. (Courtesy of Society for Science)

Dasia Taylor has juiced about three dozen beets in the last 18 months. The root vegetables, she’s found, provide the perfect dye for her invention: suture thread that changes color, from bright red khổng lồ dark purple, when a surgical wound becomes infected.

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The 17-year-old student at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City, Iowa, began working on the project in October 2019, after her chemistry teacher shared information about state-wide science fairs with the class. As she developed her sutures, she nabbed awards at several regional science fairs, before advancing to lớn the national stage. This January, Taylor was named one of 40 finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the country’s oldest và most prestigious science và math competition for high school seniors.

As any science fair veteran knows, at the core of a successful project is a problem in need of solving. Taylor had read about sutures coated with a conductive sầu material that can sense the status of a wound by changes in electrical resistance, and relay that information to lớn the smartphones or computers of patients and doctors. While these “smart” sutures could help in the United States, the expensive sầu tool might be less applicable to lớn people in developing countries, where internet access & điện thoại công nghệ is sometimes lacking. And yet the need is there; on average, 11 percent of surgical wounds develop an infection in low- & middle-incoming countries, according khổng lồ the World Health Organization, compared khổng lồ between 2 and 4 percent of surgeries in the U.S.

Infections after Cesarean sections particularly caught Taylor’s attention. In some African nations, up lớn đôi mươi percent of women who give birth by C-section then develop surgical site infections. Retìm kiếm has also shown that health centers in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo và Burundi have sầu similar or lower rates of infection, at between 2 & 10 percent, following C-sections than the U.S., where rates range from 8 lớn 10 percent.

But smartphone access is markedly different. A BBC survey published in 2016 found that in Sierra Leone, about 53 percent of people own Mobile phones, và about three-quarters of those owned basic cell phones, not smartphones.

“I"ve sầu done a lot of racial equity work in my community, I"ve been a guest speaker at several conferences,” says Taylor. “So when I was presented with this opportunity to bởi research, I couldn"t help but go at it with an equity lens.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Taylor spent most of her time after school in the Black History trò chơi Show, a club she’s been a thành viên of since eighth grade, and attending weekly school board & district meetings khổng lồ advocate for an anti-racist curriculum. For the four months leading up to her first regional science fair in February 20đôi mươi, Taylor committed Friday afternoons to retìm kiếm under the guidance of her chemistry teacher, Carolyn Walling.

Healthy human skin is naturally acidic, with a pH around five sầu. But when a wound becomes infected, its pH goes up to lớn about nine. Changes in pH can be detected without electronics; many fruits & vegetables are natural indicators that change color at different pH levels.

“I found that beets changed color at the perfect pH point,” says Taylor. Bright red beet juice turns dark purple at a pH of nine. “That"s perfect for an infected wound. And so, I was lượt thích, ‘Oh, okay. So beets is where it"s at.’”

Next, Taylor had khổng lồ find a suture thread that would hold onlớn the dye. She tested ten different materials, including standard suture thread, for how well they picked up và held the dye, whether the dye changed color when its pH changed, and how their thickness compared lớn standard suture thread. After her school transitioned to remote learning, she could spover four or five sầu hours in the lab on an asynchronous lesson day, running experiments.

A cotton-polyester blkết thúc checked all the boxes. After five sầu minutes under an infection-lượt thích pH, the cotton-polyester thread changes from bright red lớn dark purple. After three days, the purple fades lớn light gray.

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After five sầu minutes under an infection-lượt thích pH, the cotton-polyester thread changes from bright red to dark purple. (Courtesy of Society for Science)
After three days, the purple fades khổng lồ light gray. (Courtesy of Society for Science)

Working with an eye on equity in global health, she hopes that the color-changing sutures will someday help patients detect surgical site infections as early as possible so that they can seek medical care when it has the most impact. Taylor plans khổng lồ patent her invention. In the meantime, she’s waiting for her final college admissions results.

“To get to the Top 40, this is like post-doctoral work that these kids are doing,” says Maya Ajmera, the president and CEO of the Society for Science, which runs the Science Talent Search. This year’s top prizes went khổng lồ a matching algorithm that can find pairs in an infinite pool of options, a computer model that can help identify useful compounds for pharmaceutical retìm kiếm & a sustainable drinking water filtration system. The finalists also voted to lớn grant Taylor the Seaborg Award, making her a spokesperson for their cohort.

Kathryn Chu, the director of the Center for Global Surgery at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, focuses on improving equitable access lớn surgical care. “I think it is amazing that this young high school scientist was inspired to lớn work on a solution to address this problem,” the surgeon writes in an email. “A product that could detect early would be extremely valuable.”

However, she adds, “how this concept could translate from the bench to the bedside needs further testing.”

Current suture threads are good at their job: they’re affordable, they’re not irritating on the skin, & they are strong enough to hold a wound together. The beet juice-dyed thread will need to lớn be competitive on all of these attributes. Surgical site infections can also occur below the surface of a wound—a C-section involves cutting through, and then repairing, not just the skin but also the muscle underneath. As it stands, the color-changing suture thread wouldn’t help detect an infection below the skin, and “if the infection oozes through the skin, or involves the skin, the infection has already reached later stages,” writes Chu.

Lastly, the same non-absorbency that makes standard suture thread hard to dye with beet juice also keeps bacteria out, & vice versa. While cốt tông thread’s braided structure gives it the ability to pick up the beet dye, it also provides a hiding place for bacteria that cause infections.

Taylor has been pursuing a line of research since the beginning of her project that might counteract the risks posed by using cốt tông.

“I read some studies that said beet juice was antibacterial. And although I want lớn take their word, I wanted to lớn try it for myself. I wanted to lớn reproduce their results,” says Taylor.

Working with an eye on equity in global health, she hopes that the color-changing sutures will someday help patients detect surgical site infections as early as possible so that they can seek medical care when it has the most impact. (Courtesy of Society for Science)

But studying bacteria requires specific, sterile practices that neither Taylor, nor her mentors Walling và Michelle Wikner, both chemistry teachers, were initially familiar with. In the months leading up to lớn the Science Talent Search competition, Taylor connected with microbiologist Theresa Ho at University of Iowa to create a retìm kiếm plan incorporating the proper techniques, & that work is ongoing.

Reflecting on the science fair experience, Taylor most wants to lớn thank Carolyn Walling for encouraging her khổng lồ participate. “We"re kind of basking in all of this together,” she says, especially because it’s her first year doing independent retìm kiếm. She’s also thankful for the tư vấn of her community.

“I have sầu so much school pride because when somebody in our school does something great, they"re celebrated lớn its fullest extent,” says Taylor. “And being able to be one of those kids has been so amazing.”

After graduation, Taylor hopes lớn attover Howard University, study political science and eventually become a lawyer.

“I am looking forward to seeing how Dasia uses this project moving forward,” says Ajmera. “And on a long-term scale, I’m really interested in watching what problems she is going khổng lồ continue khổng lồ solve sầu, to make the world a better place.”

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