High school students capture attention of top medical minds at Steadman-Philippon 10th annual EPOC event

Dr. Marc Philippon of the Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute delivers a speech to students completing research projects through the institute's Education and Public Outreach Committee.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

In saluting the Steadman Philippon Research Institute and its Education and Public Outreach Committee this year, Dr. Marc Philippon cited some close ties.

Philippon shares the institute’s namesake along with Dr. Richard Steadman, and Philippon’s wife, Senenne Philippon, started EPOC.

“Dr. Steadman started the research institute out of a very small room in Lake Tahoe,” Philippon said. “He always wanted to pursue education.”

The EPOC program culminates in April every year with six groups of high school students presenting semester-long research projects to members of the Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute. The groups consist of two-student research teams from Vail Mountain School, Battle Mountain High School, Lake County High School, Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, Vail Christian School and Eagle Valley High School.

The groups are allowed to use the institute’s facilities in testing the hypotheses associated with their research questions, and they also have the aid of mentor scientists from the research institute.

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This year, two projects will get a chance to present at the Vail Scientific Summit in August after being selected by a panel of judges. The Vail Scientific Summit is an annual event organized by Dr. Johnny Huard which hosts discussions that aim to advance improvements in medicine. Huard attended the students’ presentations this year and said in recent years he has met a lot of people that have trained in the EPOC program.

“What you have done is very meaningful, and we hope that we have been able to excite you with our research program that we are doing here,” he said to the students in the EPOC program.

Dan Drawbaugh, chief executive officer of the Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, also attended and said he was impressed to learn that nearly all the students who have graduated from the EPOC program in years past have gone into the medical field and returned to the institute to be mentors.

“This program has a life to it that’s really fascinating in a small town, how so many individuals who graduate from it come back and want to be a part of the faculty,” Drawbaugh said.

The program just completed its 10th year.

Philippon looked back on the program’s beginnings and he is very proud of how EPOC has evolved. During Senenne Philippon’s first year of pursuing EPOC, “we had fifth graders take a tour of the facility,” Philippon said.

“I think in this valley, we have a beautiful ski resort, but I think we need to create opportunity for our youth to pursue other goals and other interests, so we’re very proud of that,” he said.

Students were selected by the science teachers at their respective schools.

From Vail Mountain School, Peter Mueller and Tyler Hopkins examined the efficacy of Fisetin and Metformin on senescent cells within various ages and sex. From Vail Christian High School, Lindsey Whitton and Ethan Rackliff studied lateral movement in the human body in an effort to see if a relationship exists between lateral training and performance in sports. From Vail Mountain School, Alexi Sege and Henry Pratt examined caffeine’s effect on cartilage cell proliferation. From Battle Mountain High School, Kathryn Wilson and Monica Loya examined muscle timing and duration in free throw shooting in relation to gender. Eagle Valley High School students Grace Thomas and Jack Packert looked at hydrogen peroxide-induced senescence on TFI cells, and Lake County High School students Azalea Tapia and Jaime Castillo studied exercise impact on athletes’ vertical jump.

The projects were judged based on scientific quality (how well the experiment was performed and the data and analysis), critical relevance (choice of the topic and potential impact from the results of the study), clarity and organization (how well students were able to present to the information to the audience), and originality.

Alex Brady, the program’s co-coordinator, said the research projects presented by the high school students were “at the college level, or even the graduate level.”

Kathryn Wilson and Monica Loya, in looking at the mechanics of the free throw in basketball, earned a spot at this year’s Vail Scientific Summit, along with Alexi Sege and Henry Pratt for their study of caffeine’s effect on cartilage cell proliferation.

EPOC Coordinator Patricia McNamara gave a special thank you to the many parents in attendance.

“It’s really important that the teachers are here as well as the parents, so you can really see what your children have been doing over the last couple of months,” McNamara said. “Because we’re proud of them, as much as you are proud of them.”

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