2017-04-21 / Schools

Experiment to better understand diabetes wins at fair

Friends compared their blood sugar levels after eating
By Anne Kallas
Special to the Acorn

BLOOD WORK—Kaya Spencer, left, and Ella Cundiff, sixth-graders at Los Primeros School of Sciences and Arts, won first place in the middle school biochemistry division at the Ventura County Science Fair on March 14. They will compete in the state science fair next week. Courtesy of the Cundifi family BLOOD WORK—Kaya Spencer, left, and Ella Cundiff, sixth-graders at Los Primeros School of Sciences and Arts, won first place in the middle school biochemistry division at the Ventura County Science Fair on March 14. They will compete in the state science fair next week. Courtesy of the Cundifi family The experiment sixth-graders Ella Cundiff and Kaya Spencer entered into the Ventura County Science Fair last month was quite personal for the two friends.

The middle-schoolers used their own blood to learn more about their bodies.

For their efforts, the 11-yearold students at Los Primeros School of Sciences and Arts won first place in the middle school biochemistry division of the annual science fair at the Ventura County Fairgrounds on March 14.

Their experiment looked at the effect of different foods on the blood sugar of diabetics and non-diabetics—an especially important lesson for the girls as they learned more about Ella’s diabetes and how food choices can affect their health.

The sixth-graders’ experiment was among 720 entries from 850 middle and high school students in Ventura County. Each entry at the county competition is judged by local science experts.

The girls’ entry now advances to the California State Science Fair, which will be April 24 and 25 at the California Science Center, 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles.

According to Ella’s mom, Krissy Cundiff, a senior manager at Amgen, this is the first time in 18 years that anyone from Los Primeros has been to the state science fair.

The girls, under the watchful eye of Ella’s mom, looked at how eating various snacks affected their blood sugar levels. A normal blood sugar level has less than 90 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood. A diabetic’s blood sugar level can be more than twice that. Excess blood sugar can lead to a variety of complications affecting eyesight, kidneys and other vital organs.

Ella, who lives with her family in Camarillo, said she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes five years ago. As a result, she has to monitor what she eats and how it affects her blood sugar level, which can swing wildly.

Her friend and lab partner, Kaya, who lives in Thousand Oaks, said she was interested in learning more about the disease and the medication and constant monitoring required to treat it.

“We wanted to be science partners, and I liked the idea of being a diabetic and a non-diabetic and trying to get an experiment relating to that,” Kaya said.

The lessons learned from the project had the biggest impact on Ella, who must deal with her diabetes on a daily basis.

“I learned more about the different food groups and how those things definitely make a difference in blood sugar. Sometimes I forget to take my dose and my numbers are off for the rest of the day. Now, because of that research, I understand why that happens,” Ella said.

To conduct the experiment, the girls each ate measured portions of various foods to see what the impact was on their blood sugar level. Because Ella is diabetic, her mom kept close tabs on her blood sugar level in case she needed to be medicated.

The experiment used cheddar cheese as a fat, tri-tip as a protein, bread as a starch and fruit juice as a sugar.

Krissy Cundiff said they waited until Ella’s blood sugar level was low enough that she could consume some fruit juice without needing an insulin injection.

The results were as expected, especially with the fruit juice, which had the greatest and most immediate effect on the girls’blood sugar. Ella said her numbers soared during the two-hour period after drinking the juice, while Kaya’s numbers stayed relatively constant.

The other results were not surprising either, other than an unexpected drop in Ella’s blood sugar level after she ate tri-tip. The drop was attributed to her medication.

While neither girl is interested in science as a possible career, they both said they enjoyed working on the experiment.

Ella said she loves engineering and hopes to someday pursue a passion for building.

Cundiff said she enjoyed working with the girls and teaching them what she knows about scientific experimentation as a biologist.

“I loved sitting with the girls at the kitchen table,” Cundiff said. “We talked through it. What does this mean? How does it relate to their hypothesis? I was able to teach them how to think and why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

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