A Smithtown High School East junior won second place internationally for an essay she wrote on Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative genetic brain disorder.
Jillian Pesce, 16, was first runner-up in the American Society of Human Genetics’ 2016 DNA Day Essay Contest, which received more than 1,400 entries from 23 countries. She was awarded $600 for herself, $600 for her research teacher Maria Zeitlin to use for school equipment, and three MiniOne Electrophoresis Systems for her school from the contest’s sponsor Embi Tec.
The 11th annual contest, open to grades 9-12, asked students to choose a genetic test available for a condition or disease that does not cause symptoms until adulthood and then defend or refute using pediatric genetic testing for that disease.
“Since there is no cure for Huntington’s disease, adolescents should not seek presymptomatic testing because it could be traumatic,” Pesce said. She discovered she was a winner when she looked at the society’s website, she said, adding, “I was so ecstatic; I screamed out to my mom.”
Pesce is part of her school’s ThINK Science Research Program. She entered her 750-word essay as part of a class assignment for Zeitlin, who had students undergo five rounds of essay edits before submission.
Pesce is treasurer of the Math Honor Society and captain of her school’s varsity volleyball team.