High school students gain hands-on experience at Forensic Toxicology Camp July 7-11

SAN ANTONIO (July 9, 2008) — Dressed in a white lab coat, 16-year-old Megan Peña steadies a pipette as she carefully fills her specimen tray with a reagent. The Clark High School student is one of nine local high school students participating in a one-of-a-kind Forensic Toxicology Summer Camp at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. She is learning how to conduct a critical test to learn if a patient has overdosed on acetaminophen.

“Tylenol, which contains acetaminophen, and aspirin are among the safest pain relievers, but they also can be very dangerous if a person overdoses on them,” explains mentor Keren Herrera, a graduate student in the clinical laboratory sciences (CLS) program at the Health Science Center. “A person overdosing can suffer liver damage and it can be deadly,” she says as she guides the students in conducting their first lab experiment.

The camp, sponsored by the Department of CLS in the School of Allied Health Sciences and the South Texas Area Health Education Center, began July 7 and ends Friday, July 11. Students learn about various career choices from experts in the field of allied health sciences, and gain specific knowledge and hands-on experience in the field of forensic toxicology.

George Kudolo, Ph.D., FACB, professor and coordinator of the Graduate Toxicology Program at the Health Science Center, conceived the idea for the summer camp last year.

“Many times, young students have a limited idea of what the health professions offer. They think – doctor, dentist or nurse. But there are so many other choices, especially in the field of allied health sciences,” he said. “I felt a summer camp would be a great way to expose students to the vast majority of careers available in the field, especially because the allied health sciences provide 70 percent of the work force for the health industry.” Dr. Kudolo also noted that more than 70 percent of the information that physicians use for diagnoses comes from clinical laboratory tests.

“We want to show students early on that they have the ability and resources to succeed in the allied health sciences,” Dr. Kudolo said. “While high school chemistry in the classroom might seem dry to them, this camp gives students a hands-on approach that can be exciting and interesting and provides a good foundation they can build on using chemical principles they are learning now.”

With assistance from Dr. Kudolo, fellow CLS faculty and staff, their graduate student advisers and CLS interns, the high school students learn about lab safety, how to gather specimens, how to handle acids and bases, and how to weigh compounds. They practice basic techniques used in conducting diagnostic testing and chemical tests of forensic toxicology, including a “rape kit” test and a sophisticated form of thin-layer chromatography called ToxiLab for identification of drugs.

Trevor Winkler, a junior at Clark High School, said the camp turned out to be a great way for him to spend his summer.

“I’m really glad I’m here because I’m learning a lot and it’s fun,” he said. “I’m interested in the sciences so this is going to help prepare me for what I might be able to do when I’m ready to work in the field. I’m happy the Health Science Center offered this.”

The Forensic Toxicology Camp begins at 8:30 a.m. each day this week and will end with a closing ceremony beginning at 3:15 p.m. Friday, July 11.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 23,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit www.uthscsa.edu.

About the South Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC):
Sponsored by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the South Texas AHEC is a network of five centers located in Harlingen, Laredo, Del Rio, Corpus Christi and San Antonio. The centers work with community leaders to develop local initiatives to provide better health care, health training and health education.

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