Ailis Dooner is a name you should probably remember. While most high schoolers attempt to manage school, sports and other activities, Ailis does this and basically works on curing cancer at the same time.
At the Monterey County Science Fair on March 10, Dooner won top honors for her project entitled, “Targeting Lung Cancer Mutagenesis: Mycosporine-like Amino Acids as Scavengers of ROS for Reduction of p53 Scission and Mutations.” The sophomore’s project used amino acids from micro and macro-algae to prevent degradation of the p53 tumor suppressor gene, which maintains lung cancer.
Dooner’s project has significance beyond just a science fair project.
“My study is the first application of mycosporine-like amino acids in cancer pharmacology models,” Dooner says. “The potential of these is untapped.”
Dooner suspects that maybe these MAAs could be used to help other types of cancer. She hopes to continue her biomedical studies and eventually wants to test on living subjects.
She and other CHS top-prize science fair winner senior Caitlin Thompson will go to the California State Science Fair in April, in addition to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix in mid-May. This will be Dooner’s second trip to ISEF. She went last year with her project about the “effects of ambient seawater conditions on the intracellular algae, zooxanthellae, of the aggregating anemone.”
“ISEF is basically a week of awesome science,” Dooner says. “You get to meet amazing people from everywhere around the globe, all who have brilliant ideas!”
Outside of school, Dooner participates in basketball and enjoys camping, hiking and spending time with her friends.
The Dooner family often travels, and one of Ailis’ fondest memories is hiking the John Muir trail with her mom, dad and sister when she was just 13. It was a month-long backpacking trip, and they ended by summiting Mt.Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States.
Volunteering in the community is also a huge part of Dooner’s life, as she has volunteered more than 600 hours at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a Teen Conservation Leader since starting high school. Additionally, Dooner plays clarinet in the CHS band and often volunteers with Keeping Music Alive, a local non-profit organization run by students to provide a music program for a charter school in Salinas.
As she has grown up, Dooner has been impressed and inspired by the work of older students.
“I was totally amazed and inspired by the level of research being performed by some of the high school students in the upper division,” Dooner remarks. “Now, as a high school student, I hope that the depth of my research may inspire younger students to get involved in research and science fair.”
In the future, Dooner would like to pursue a career either in research sciences, clinical medicine or environmental health and public policy. While she doesn’t have any specific colleges in mind, she would like to go to school somewhere on the East Coast, where she has family.
Many not only admire Dooner for her academics, but for her character.
“I want to be Ailis when I grow up,” says Dooner’s freshman English teacher Whitney Grummon. “She’s passionate. She’s brilliant. She’s funny.”
“Ailis is a very nice friend,” sophomore Erika DePalatis comments. “We can always have intellectual, deep conversations together.”
Dooner’s unique name, Ailis, is derived from Gaelic language, and is actually a common name in Ireland.
“Many people include an ‘h’ at the end of Ailis to make it more pronounceable,” Dooner notes. “Only one person has ever pronounced my name correctly on the first try—Ms. Grummon!”
Dooner explains that the 2012 slogan of the International Engineering and Science Fair was “Inspired to Change Our World,” and this is exactly what Ailis has the potential to do.