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Working With Worms E-mail
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Monday, 02 July 2007
Working With Worms



By Rhonda J. Miller


South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Worms -- lots of worms -- are in Melanie Kabinoff's summer plans.

She will order 2,000 of them, half nearly microscopic, the other half yellow earthworms similar to what you'd find in the dirt or buy in a bait shop.

Kabinoff, 16, will squish the tiny round ones in a pneumatic press, spin them in a centrifuge and collect the liquid protein. Then she will infuse the liquid through the pores of the yellow earthworms in her experiments to find a way to prevent Alzheimer's.

"I worked with worms because they're multicellular, the most like humans," Melanie said.

The Park Vista High School student's work is serious stuff, good enough for third place in biochemistry at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May. The science competition in Albuquerque, N.M., had 1,500 students from 53 countries.

"I worked really hard for this, but I tried not to expect too much," she said. "When I heard my name called, I went crazy. To be third in the world was a big shock."

Her passion for Alzheimer's research grew out of a desire to understand the disease that afflicted her grandfather, the late Alvin Kabinoff. When she was 9 and he was slowly losing his memory, she saw him look at a picture of her and her brother.

"Who are those people?" her grandfather asked.

Even though she was too young to understand much, that hurt. Her grandfather was getting forgetful about who her father and her uncle were.

She's used to taking on big scientific issues. She won first place with her eighth-grade science fair project and a spot at the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge in Washington, D.C. The project was about using earthworm protein to treat skin cancer.

That project began because a fair-skinned family friend had melanoma. That woman is well today, but overexposure to sunlight that can cause cancer decades later still concerns Kabinoff, whose enthusiasm for science is equaled by her passion for filmmaking.

"I want to make all kinds of films, but especially documentaries for children, so they'll learn about these things," Kabinoff said.

She's relaxed a bit during the first part of summer, sleeping until noon at the family's Boynton Beach home, where she lives with her brother, Garrett, 19, a student at Florida Atlantic University; her dad, Richard, a science teacher at Loggers Run Middle School, west of Boca Raton; and her mom, Phyllis, an assistant principal at Christa McAuliffe Middle School, west of Boynton Beach.

"I work in the school system and I'm always rooting for every child," Phyllis Kabinoff said. "But when it's your own child, you feel different. I don't want to brag, but I'm so proud. I'm ecstatic."

Her room is neatly lined with a wall full of plaques recognizing her science achievements, as well as a dance trophy, shelves of soft M&M dolls in colors like lime green and sunny yellow, Tootsie Roll toys and movie memorabilia.

The accomplished young scientist likes to skateboard, ride her bicycle and go to the pool and movies with friends, and she will soon start hip-hop classes. Summer is relaxing -- for a while.

"I can't wait to get back in the lab," she said. "It's fun."

That lab -- owned by her uncle, Steven Brooker, a nutritionist who tests food samples -- is in southern California. When she gets there in a couple of weeks, she will begin her 11th-grade science fair project by ordering the worms.

When she's not in the lab, she's not much on real worms. When she was very young, she used them for fishing with her grandfather and dug up plenty playing in the dirt with her brother.

When she was 13 and 14, she and her brother fished in the lake near their house. But they used rubber worms.

"They were more convenient to put in my backpack," she said.

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