SADDLE BROOK, N.J.– Jenna DiRito of Saddle Brook has come a long way from bandaging her dolls and studying anatomy on her LeapPad system.
DiRito, 20, is now studying molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale University and spends 20 hours a week in the laboratory for her senior thesis.
"I started working as an undergraduate student researcher at the Saltzman Lab my second week at Yale," she said. "I'm currently studying nanoparticle physics."
Part of her study is to determine the amount of nanoparticles traveling throughout the body from a single drop of blood, DiRito said.
"I am also working on classifying the rates of elimination of certain drugs in the system to optimize levels of initial drug delivery," she said.
Her mother nurtured her passion for medicine, DiRito said.
"She would take me to museums and travel with me throughout the area to find what interested me as I was growing up. It turned out to be medicine," she said. "She always helped me pursue it to its greatest potential."
DiRito began competing in national and international science fairs when she was in 7th grade.
At 16, she conducted research that is being filed as a patent : "Nanoparticle-Medicated Genetic Delivery of Growth Inhibiting Genes on Balloon Angioplasty to Suppress Intimal Hyperplasia."
"Intimal hyperplasia is when the inner most layer of cells in an artery divide and block blood flow," DiRito said. "I worked to create a treatment that can be coupled with the initial surgery that works on a genetic level, utilizing nanoparticles as a vehicle to stop intimal hyperplasia from occurring."
Her work appeared as an abstract in the "Journal of Vascular Surgery:Venous and Lymphatic Disorders," she added.
"I applied for that journal's conference," DiRito said, "and when I was accepted to present in front of a group of hundreds of international surgeons and researchers, it was coupled with a publication.
"I am also currently working on writing my first full paper for the research I am conducting at Yale."
DiRito is on track to graduate next spring.
She will earn her Bachelor of Science in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology in three years and will work in her industry for a year before heading off to graduate school.
DiRito is a certified EMT in both New Jersey and Connecticut and works as an EMT at American Medical Response. She is Yale Emergency Medical Services's chief of operations and remains a member of Saddle Brook's volunteer ambulance corps.
"I feel blessed to have accomplished so much in my life thus far, but I truly expect nothing less of myself," she said. "I can't wait to see what the future has in store for me."