High school student gets crash course in lupus research

At age 17, Logann Wyatt thinks she has seen her future.

Standing in the laboratory of Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Susan Kovats, Ph.D., Wyatt feels at home. Though she spent less than the average workweek inside those walls, it’s just as she imagined it.

“This is what I expected,” she said. “You work in a small lab with the same people each day and you focus on your project.”

In her case, the project was lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system becomes unbalanced and attacks the body’s own tissues, causing painful and damaging inflammation. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 1.5 million in the U.S. have the disease—including Wyatt’s older sister, Alexandria Payton.

“She doesn’t talk about it much,” Wyatt said. “That’s part of why I wanted to learn about immunology research.”

A senior at Harding Charter Preparatory High School in Oklahoma City, Wyatt usually spends her time on the soccer field, in classes and working a part-time job at a movie theater. But for her Senior Capstone course, she wanted to know more about what is being done—and what she might someday do—to help people like her sister.

The capstone course is the culmination of Harding’s college preparatory program, designed to bring together the knowledge, skills, and interests developed by students through all aspects of their education.

“Logann is a very hardworking, dedicated and motivated young lady who has taken the most rigorous schedule Harding Charter Prep High School has to offer,” said Harding counselor Linda Marshall.

Though not a clinician, Kovats works in the research trenches, trying to understand the mechanisms of lupus at a cellular and molecular level.

“My role was to get Logann excited about research,” she said. “We taught her how to do experiments in the lab, about the process and how it’s different than what students do in school.”

That’s because research is unscripted, Kovats said. Scientists ask interesting questions and invent new ways to answer them.

“In my lab, we’re really interested in the role of estrogen and estrogen receptors in lupus, because it strikes women disproportionately more than men,” she said. “I wanted Logann to see the research we’re doing and show her that she can do it, too.”

Wyatt called the experience inspiring and is planning to take college courses that will prepare her for a career in research.