Maggie Zeng '24 Publishes Research in International Journal

Maggie Zeng '24 recently had an independent research study published in The Journal of Student Research.

Last summer, Maggie Zeng '24 advanced her research and study skills through her work as a Pioneer Scholar studying neuroscience and psychology, epigenetics, and neurogenomics. Sponsored by Pioneer Academics, the Pioneer Scholar program is a high-level, highly-selective course of study offering high school students research opportunities in STEM, social sciences, and humanities disciplines. Pioneer Scholars are taught and mentored by professors from leading colleges and universities, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Georgetown, and Penn. Building on that experience, Maggie continued her work independently when she returned home and when she returned to Taft in the fall, drafting a scientific review of research and literature related to Asian flush syndrome. It was recently published in The Journal of Student Research, High School Edition.

"As a Pioneer Scholar, I wrote my first original paper under the mentorship of a college professor. By compiling and analyzing data from open patient databases, I was able to explore the effects of gene methylation and amplification that MGMT and EGFR genes have on the prognosis of human glioblastoma," Maggie explains. "I thought that experience was really rewarding, because it was my very first time engaging in highly-nuanced scientific research. I decided to keep researching and writing, this time on something that was more prevalent within my own home community."

Asian flush syndrome, also known as alcohol flush reaction, is a condition characterized by the development of red blotches on the face, neck, shoulders, and in some cases, the entire body after consuming alcohol. It can also cause nausea, headaches, and an increased heartrate, and is common among those of East Asians descent, with approximately 30 to 50 percent of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean people showing the characteristic physiological responses to alcohol. Why? An aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) enzyme deficiency caused by an ALDH2 gene mutation.

"Asian flush syndrome is a condition that many of my family members exhibit, yet there isn't a lot of public awareness about the harmful long-term effects that the syndrome can bring," says Maggie. "As I became more familiar with the topic, I also became aware of the huge stigma that surrounds drinking culture and Asian flush syndrome. I wrote my paper to analyze and compile information about the primary health consequences that ‘Asian flushers' are predisposed to. I also connected that information to the cultural misinformation that is pervasive in many Eastern Asian countries."

In her published review, which she drafted and submitted for publication with guidance and support from Science Teacher Michael McAloon, Maggie systematically compiled research that explains the biology of ALDH2 deficiency and how it can lead to increased risks of esophageal cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer's disease. She also explored prevention, social factors, and recommendations for increasing awareness and decreasing alcohol intake for those with the gene mutation. The Journal of Student Research took note.

"This is a wonderful, proud achievement," says Taft Head of School Willy MacMullen '78. "It is scholarship of a very high order indeed, and an indication that there may be a Ph.D. in the future!"

And Maggie will continue on her dynamic research path this summer, when she spends five weeks attending the University of California Santa Barbara's Summer Research Academy. She has chosen a research track that focuses on public health and prejudice and disparities within healthcare systems; she will present her findings in a capstone seminar at the end of the program. As co-head of Taft's Public Health Club, Maggie believes this research track will also benefit the Taft community.

"I am hopeful that my time at the research academy will help me advance the club's programming and bring more diverse opinions and opportunities to the community when I return this fall."

Read Maggie's Asian flush syndrome research paper here.


The Journal of Student Research is an academic, multidisciplinary, and faculty-reviewed journal devoted to the rapid dissemination of current research published by high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. The Journal strives to provide a global platform for our authors to showcase their work.

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