While still a senior in high school, Britni Lonesome
toiled 10 hours a week in a Whiting School of Engineering
lab, helping to develop a new drug delivery system that
could someday reduce tuberculosis deaths in impoverished
nations. This month, the 18-year-old enters Johns Hopkins
as a Baltimore Scholar, having already received local and
national recognition for her work on the project.
Lonesome contributed to the research in the lab of
Justin Hanes, an associate professor in
Biomolecular Engineering, who praises Lonesome as the
latest in a series of talented high school students who
have made valuable contributions to his work while honing
their own science skills before entering college.
In 1999, when Sally Kutzer, who teaches the Senior
Research Practicum class at Baltimore Polytechnic
Institute, a city high school, first asked Hanes to add one
of her students to his lab team, the Johns Hopkins
researcher had a few concerns. "I'm always wary of anyone
who would enter my lab," he said. "It's an environment that
requires maturity and responsibility. But the first of
Sally's high school students who came through convinced me
that this was not a waste of time."
That student, Craig Turner, won the grand prize in
physical science at the Baltimore Science Fair and was a
finalist at the Intel International Science and Engineering
Fair. Since then, Kutzer has placed dozens of Poly students
in local university science and engineering labs. Among the
most recent was Joi Hayes, who worked in a Johns Hopkins
tissue engineering lab and won this year's biology gold
medal in the NAACP's national ACT-SO (Academic, Cultural,
Technological and Scientific Olympics) competition. She is
now attending the University of Virginia.
This fall, of the 20 students registered for Kutzer's
high school class, 16 will work in Johns Hopkins
engineering, biology, chemistry, medical and public health
labs. "The majority of them do their research projects at
Johns Hopkins," Kutzer said. "The reason is that the
Hopkins professors are eager to take these students on. And
it's a big help to the students in our program. Many of
them have never been in a university lab. When they meet
these professors, it helps them build up a valuable network
Added Hanes: "For some of them, it's kind of an
introduction to a new world. In some cases, high school
students who are from underprivileged families or who are
part of ethnic groups that are underrepresented in science
and engineering will feel more comfortable applying to
Johns Hopkins after spending a year in one of our labs."
That was the case with Lonesome. During her junior
year in high school, she heard about the lab partnership
program. "I was interested in chemical engineering," she
said. "I wanted to go to John Hopkins, and this was a
chance to do research there. When I met Dr. Hanes, he told
me what he was doing in his lab, and I didn't understand
any of it. But it wasn't discouraging. I knew it would be
challenging, but I wasn't intimidated."
Lonesome was introduced to Hanes' lab team and
directed to read at least 20 journal articles related to
the drug delivery project. During a subsequent lab team
meeting, Hanes recalls, "Britni gave a very impressive
first presentation. She came up to speed very quickly, and
she analyzed the literature very well."
Under the supervision of graduate student Matthew
Durst, Lonesome learned to produce polymer disks
impregnated with isoniazid, a drug used to treat
tuberculosis. She then conducted lab tests to measure the
amount of the drug that would likely be released to the
patient over a 30-day period. She discovered that, contrary
to what one might have expected, a lower concentration of
the drug in the disk led to a more consistent release of
the medication. Higher concentrations led to inconsistent
release rates. Hanes said Lonesome's results will be
incorporated in an upcoming journal article focusing on the
team's work, and she will be credited as a co-author.
Earlier this year, Lonesome received a first-place
award from the Maryland Society of Clinical and Lab
Scientists at the Baltimore Science Fair and a gold medal
in chemistry at the NAACP's ACT-SO state competition.
During the ACT-SO national finals in July, she collected
the bronze medal in chemistry.
These awards recognized Lonesome's work in fabricating
and conducting lab tests on polymer implants designed to
dispense medication continuously for a three-month period.
If these implants prove to be effective in humans, they
could replace the four pills that tuberculosis patients now
must swallow every day for up to nine months. "That kind of
pill-taking regimen can be a real challenge for people in
Third World countries," Lonesome said. "A dime-size implant
that slowly releases its medication over several months
would be much easier for them to handle. And it could save
The project is important because tuberculosis is the
second-most common major infectious disease, just behind
AIDS. The disease infects about 9 million people annually,
killing nearly 2 million every year.
Lonesome is one of 18 students entering Johns Hopkins
this year through the university's Baltimore Scholars
Program, which provides full-tuition scholarships to
graduates of Baltimore City public schools who are accepted
into the university's undergraduate programs. She plans to
continue working in Hanes' lab to advance the tuberculosis
implant research. The disks used in her previous
experiments are nonbiodegradable and would have to be
removed after the treatment is finished. Lonesome may try
to replicate her work with a polymer that could dissolve
harmlessly in the body after its work is done. She also may
participate in animal testing, which must be completed
before the disks could be used in humans.