Student wins awards at science fair for college-assisted project

Brevard County high school student Nikki Scarpino was honored for a project she worked with UF CVM faculty members to complete. (Photo courtesy of Nikki Scarpino)

A high-school student from Brevard County received several honors in the Brevard Regional Mainland Science Fair in February for a project she collaborated with UF College of Veterinary Medicine faculty and staff on to complete.

Her project, a pilot study, related to the effects of phototherapy on nitric oxide levels in equine blood, said the student, Nikki Scarpino, who was a senior at Astronaut High School in Titusville when she entered the fair. Scarpino received an award for scientific excellence, as well as the Deuk Spine Foundation’s Science Research Award and the Naval Science Award for her project, and also placed second in her category.

“I chose to study the wavelengths of 810 nanometers and 905 nanometers, because they are the wavelengths commonly used to treat deep tissue injuries in equines and small animals,” said Scarpino, adding that nitric oxide is a gaseous signaling molecule that stimulates many healing properties at the site of injury.

She came up with the idea last August and contacted Dr. Ali Morton, an associate professor of large animal surgery, for advice and guidance.

“Dr. Morton reviewed my procedures and provided feedback, as well as allowed me to use the laser from the equine hospital,” Scarpino said. “In November, I was fortunate enough to be able to work in one of the labs at the UF veterinary school for two days. Dr. Martha Mallicote (a clinical assistant professor of large animal medicine) generously allowed me to use blood from five of her horses.”

Wendy Davies, a veterinary technician with the UF Small Animal Hospital’s integrative medicine service, allowed Scarpino to use the hospital’s laser, and showed her how to operate it.

“Recent studies have shown that phototherapy, specifically the 810 nanometer treatment, works on the mitochondria in some way,” Scarpino said. “I feel the data collected from my project offers one possible explanation for why the 810 nanometer treatment is the most notable.”

She added that she hoped her project could offer insight into the relationship between phototherapy and the healing of injuries in order to help us better understand phototherapy as treatment in equines.

Now a rising freshman at UF, Scarpino hopes to continue her research while in college.


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