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Ag School Student Taking Colon Cancer Project To International Science Fair

By Howard Ludwig | April 21, 2016 6:51am
 Emily Neeson, of Mount Greenwood, holds a model of the human digestive system, which includes a colon. Neeson did extensive research on cancerous colons in mice and used her findings to create a winning science fair project. She'll compete in an international competition May 8-13.
Emily Neeson, of Mount Greenwood, holds a model of the human digestive system, which includes a colon. Neeson did extensive research on cancerous colons in mice and used her findings to create a winning science fair project. She'll compete in an international competition May 8-13.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

MOUNT GREENWOOD — Emily Neeson, a junior at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Mount Greenwood, spent last summer researching cancerous mice colons.

She then used the data to craft a winning science fair project that she'll present May 8-13 at the International Science and Engineering Fair.

Roughly 1,700 high school students from across the globe will compete in the science fair held in Phoenix. And some $4 million in prizes will be handed out to winners, according to contest organizers.

Neeson, of Mount Greenwood, was selected to participate in the international contest after presenting her project to judges in March at the Chicago Public School Student Science Fair at the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park.

Only four of the 300 students who participated in the city science fair were selected to move on to the all-expense-paid international competition, said Ashley Pabst, a spokeswoman for the science fair.

Neeson's project focuses on how diet and exercise affect colon cancer in mice. It's an effort she worked on last summer at the University of Illinois. Neeson spent six weeks at the school's campus in Urbana-Champaign working in its Research Apprentice Program.

She was paired with graduate student, Adam Kriska, and together they tested three groups of mice with colon cancer. The control group of mice ate normal food. Two other groups ate a heavy diet, supplemented with lard.

But only one of the groups of mice on the hefty meal plan was required to exercise on tiny treadmills for one hour per day, three days a week, Neeson said.

"We wanted to see if the exercise alone would slow down the progress of the colon cancer, even if you were eating a high-fat diet," she said Tuesday.

Neeson said the results were "a little strange at first," but it was soon discovered that the exercise group saw an increase in lymph node circulation. This helped slow the progression of the disease, which — if the same theory translates to humans — could offer doctors an better chance at early detection.

All of this research is spelled out on a sprawling poster Neeson, a graduate of Mount Greenwood Elementary School, will recreate for the next panel of science fair judges.

She previously presented science fair projects that focused on the effectiveness of garlic in fighting bacteria as well as how various types of soil react to erosion. And someday Neeson hopes to become a pediatrician.

Besides school, Neeson is also a soccer player and is in her fifth year working as a caddie at Ridge Country Club in West Beverly. In fact, her sister, Reilly Neeson, 19, won the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship.

Neeson said she too hopes to land the caddie scholarship but would be willing to forgo the award if another school offered a better deal.

"I will go wherever I get the most money," she said.

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