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He hasn't yet finished high school but is already undertaking honours level research – and being recognised for it.
Leon Forbes is one of 20 students selected by the Royal Society of New Zealand to attend Realise the Dream.
The 18-year-old is excited to be part of the event that will see the young scientists and inventors travel from Auckland to Wellington next month stopping at top science and technology organisations along the way. It ends with a prizegiving in the capital on December 11.
Leon's selection was based on his work with the Liggins Institute over the past two years.
While he has as good a chance as any at being awarded one of the prizes he is modest about his work.
"It depends on the calibre of everyone else's work," he says.
The Tamaki College head boy has been part of the institute's Student Scientist Mentor programme for the past four years.
He's spent much of the past two years studying the effects of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) on placental cytokine production.
In other words he is looking at how the chemical, which is found in many plastics, affects a group of molecules in the human placenta that regulate inflammation, infection and labour.
Present in most drink bottles, plastic baby bottles and the lining of tin cans, BPA is released when heated and becomes mixed in with the food.
Leon's mentor Dr Anna Ponnampalam is part of the institute's reproductive and developmental biology group and says BPA is a concern because its structure is very similar to estrogen.
"More of it could be bad. It's basically steroids. The body might not be able to differentiate."
Leon combined the chemical with samples from five placentas to see if there was any change in the gene expression.
The small scale of his experiment means there is not enough data to draw conclusive results but his research will become part of the preliminary study into the issue.
"There's enough there to say something could be happening. It warrants more investigation," Leon says.
The Panmure resident says the project has been a massive learning curve.
"Just learning all the techniques of pulling apart the placenta. It's heaps of fun. But it's crazy the amount of sterility you have to preserve."
Liggins Institute senior educator Helen Mora nominated Leon for Realise the Dream.
written by Fiona Goodal