Dasia Taylor, a teenager from Iowa City, has high hopes for the speed with which surgical infections can be detected through sutures using a color-changing beetroot-juiced solution as her strategy.
As a result, Taylor was selected as one of 300 finalists in the 80th Regeneron Science Talent Search, a national competition for high school seniors organised by the Society of Science.
"I wanted to conduct research. I didn’t think I was going to get this far,” Taylor told The Gazette’s Grace King. “This was really a chance for me to branch out and use my creativity."
“I love my project, and to find out that it was working and to get the results I did, I was over the moon.”
According to The Gazette, Taylor's fascination in medical sutures began after she received a set for Christmas a few years before.
Smithsonian Magazine states that her interest in "smart sutures," which may detect infection through changes in a wound's electrical resistance, was the inspiration for her colour-changing sutures. The sutures' conductive surface sends a notification to a mobile device or computer if a change is detected.
As Smithsonian points out, this may not be feasible for patients in developing nations, where up to 11 per cent of surgical incisions develop infections (despite standard precautions).
Taylor recognised an opening to have a positive impact.
"I've done a lot of racial equity work in my community, I've been a guest speaker at several conferences," Taylor told Smithsonian. “So when I was presented with this opportunity to do research, I couldn’t help but go at it with an equity lens.”
The chemistry teacher at Iowa City West High School, Carolyn Walling, helped guide the research of the 17-year-old student for several months on Fridays. Taylor's last strategy involved working with the skin's existing pH levels.
The average skin pH is 5, but an infection might cause it to rise. Taylor's beetroot juice-dyed sutures will change from red to purple at that point.
Taylor told Smithsonian, "I found that beets changed colour at the perfect pH point," which is around pH 9. “That’s perfect for an infected wound. And so, I was like, ‘Oh, okay. So beets is where it’s at.'”
Taylor thinks that the colour-changing sutures may aid in the early detection of infections so that antibiotics can be used to treat them rather than more intrusive procedures.
According to The Gazette, the most difficult component of making the colour-changing sutures was determining which material to utilise. Taylor also had to learn how to work in a sterile environment so that she could put the bacteria supplied by Iowa City West to the test on the sutures.
“I had to learn the proper technique of putting on a glove. I had never learned that before,” Taylor told King.
Even though Taylor didn't place in the top three of the Science Talent Search, she still has a significant victory to her name.
In March of 2020, she was the only black kid at the Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium, a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) competition sponsored by the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
"Being in the room knowing stereotypes were flying and to be able to prove them wrong and win first place was phenomenal," Taylor said to King. “My mom and I talk about it all the time. I often find myself in white-dominated spaces. That’s definitely one for the books.”