UNT TAMS student selected as semifinalist in national science competition

Monday, November 18, 2002

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- While other teenagers were spending last summer working as lifeguards, camp counselors, salesclerks or in other typical summer jobs, Andrea Runyan was studying 377 cadaver skeletons at the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of Natural History.Over 10 weeks, Runyan worked under Dr. David Hunt, the museum's specialist in physical anthropology. She examined skeletons with reported causes of death to investigate a possible link between periodontal, or gum, disease and systemic conditions such as heart disease.From the research, she determined that tooth loss from periodontal infection is probably more harmful to health than infection without tooth loss."It's hypothesized that periodontal disease can cause heart disease and other pathological conditions through inflammation and release of bacteria into the bloodstream," Runyan said.The study resulted in Runyan, the daughter of Michael and Mary Runyan of Fort Worth, recently being named a semifinalist the 2002 Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition. Runyan was one of 298 semifinalists and one of 23 semifinalists from Texas recognized for individual research in the Siemens Competition. Established in 1999 and funded by the Siemens Foundation, the competition recognizes high school research in mathematics and science. Students may submit individual projects or projects conducted with one or two other students.Runyan will also present her research abstract on the link between periodontal disease and systemic diseases at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in April.The study is just one area of research she has conducted as a student at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS). TAMS is a two-year residential program at the University of North Texas that allows talented students to complete their freshman and sophomore years of college while earning their high school diplomas. Students enroll in the academy following their sophomore year in high school, live in a UNT residence hall and attend UNT classes with college students. After two years, they enroll at UNT or another university to finish their bachelor's degrees.Runyan attended North Crowley High School before entering TAMS in August 2000."Before I went to TAMS, I thought I would be an English major in college," she said. "But I realized how much potential science has for helping the world."Runyan received one of 20 summer internships from the Smithsonian Institute for her research project. While attending TAMS, she has also conducted neuroscience research in the laboratory of Dr. Janon Fuchs, UNT professor of biological sciences. In addition, Runyan is a member of the TAMS Key Club and is training for the White Rock Marathon in Dallas on Dec. 15. She runs 30 to 50 miles a week with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society marathon training group. "It will be my first marathon. I'd like to finish in four hours," she said.A National Merit semifinalist, Runyan plans to attend Stanford University or Emory University in Atlanta after she graduates from TAMS this May. She plans to earn bachelor's degrees in both mathematics and neuroscience and biology. She then plans to work for the Peace Corps for two years before earning a doctoral degree in neuroscience.She plans to specialize in neuropsychoparmacology and contribute to the treatment of mental illnesses."We hardly understand why many drug treatments work, and some of the most effective drugs have horrible side effects," she said. "I think people with mental illnesses deserve drug treatments that let them feel like themselves, and I'm going to do whatever I can to make that possible."

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