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Julie Beckwith

The Altamont School is proud to recognize sophomore Alexandra Pritchard as an Emperor Science Award recipient. Alexandra was chosen as one of only 100 high school students from across the country and one of only four students from the state of Alabama for this award.

The Emperor Science Award, sponsored by PBS and Stand Up To Cancer, is made possible by a grant from Genentech, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Novartis. It is an initiative designed to encourage high school students to explore careers in science, specifically cancer research and care, through a unique mentoring opportunity. As an award winner, Alexandra will conduct research this summer with Dr. Jessy DeShane of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She will also receive a Google Chrome computer and a $1,500 stipend.

Alexandra's interest in cancer research is personal. "Preventing and curing cancer would save lives and bring relief to all those fearing, suffering, or grieving the loss of a loved one from cancer. I lost my beloved grandmother to breast cancer in 2015, which was devastating to me and my family. Last year my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having my family personally and repeatedly affected by this disease has inspired me to join the fight against cancer, and I have become particularly interested in understanding the risk factors associated with breast cancer," she said.

The focus of Alexandra's research project is also driven by her family's history with cancer. "My grandmother and aunt were vegetarians. After their diagnoses, I began researching vegetarian diets and found that soy-based products are a major staple. I also learned that soy-based products contain phytoestrogen, an estrogen-like compound produced by plants. I then thought about infants who consume soy-based formulas. The USDA reported in 2004 that 20-25% of formula-fed babies were fed soy-based formula. Research from a 2009 study shows that soy-fed infants receive the estrogenic equivalent of five birth control pills a day. The increasing number of soy-fed babies combined with extreme phytoestrogen exposure is worrisome."

The work that Alexandra will be doing this summer addresses this neglected area of research. "We know that estrogen in the form of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can increase the risk factor for breast cancer. Is it possible that soy-based infant formula can also increase the risk of breast cancer? Given that soy-based foods are rising in popularity, it is an important area for further research," said Alexandra. She will consult with Dr. DeShane to shape the focus of her research project, which could include a retrospective cohort study of women aged 35 or younger who are diagnosed with breast cancer or a lab study that introduces phytoestrogen and soy formula into human cells and compares results to a control group through gene analysis. Alexandra will conduct her research over the course of 12 weeks, meeting weekly with Dr. DeShane. At the end of the project, she will submit her findings in a paper to Emperor Science.

In addition to her accomplishments in science, Alexandra is also on Altamont's soccer and basketball teams, and actively involved in the school's theater program.

Congratulations Alexandra!

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