Marnett lab intern selected as top scholar in prestigious Regeneron competition

Benjamin Gordon, a 2023 summer intern in the lab of Larry Marnett, Mary Geddes Stahlman Professor of Cancer Research and University Professor of biochemistry and chemistry, has been selected as a top 300 scholar in the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2024. This Society for Science competition—the oldest science and math competition for high school seniors in the U.S.—recognizes and empowers our nation’s most promising young scientists who are generating innovative solutions to solve significant global challenges through rigorous research and discoveries”. Gordon, who studied the effects of cannabinoids on macrophages, will be awarded $2,000.

Benjamin Gordon wearing nitrile gloves and working in a cell culture hood.
Benjamin Gordon in the Marnett lab.


“I never in a million years would have thought that I would ever be considered a semi-finalist in this competition,” Gordon said. “Even looking back on it now, I still can’t believe it.”

Leading up to summer 2023, the high school senior from New York joined the Marnett lab “to get a deeper understanding of what real research looks like in an actual laboratory setting.” Interested in garnering a better understanding of cannabinoids, Gordon approached the lab because they had previously conducted experiments on the endocannabinoid system.

Marnett was impressed with Gordon’s initiative. “This was the first time I had been contacted by a high school student outside the Nashville area about doing an internship in my laboratory,” said Marnett, also dean emeritus of the School of Medicine Basic Sciences.

Before heading to Nashville to start his internship with Marnett, Gordon spent several months being mentored by Marnett via Zoom. They reviewed background material for the research he would be performing in Marnett’s lab until they arrived at the nature of the project collaboratively. Come summer 2023, Gordon made his way from New York to Music City to study the effects of cannabinoids on macrophages.

Throughout his internship, Gordon was guided by members from Marnett’s lab, including research instructor Ansari Aleem. At the outset of the internship, Aleem worked closely with Gordon to help him learn how to perform basic laboratory manipulations before conducting actual experiments. “Drs. Marnett and Aleem were inspiring mentors who taught me so much,” he said.

Once Gordon’s foundational knowledge in the lab was laid, he focused on his cannabidiol research project. In recent years, CBD has become an increasingly popular ingredient in pharmaceuticals due to its reported health benefits and is being marketed towards younger consumers, Gordon said. However, little is known about the long-term effects of the chemical, which Gordon saw as an opportunity to shed light on the topic.

The high school student measured the impact of CBD and delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol on cyclooxygenase levels and monitored activity in the lipopolysaccharide-activated macrophage cell line RAW264.7. The design of Gordon’s experiment was based on one the Marnett lab frequently uses to determine the impact of compounds on prostaglandin production by RAW cells.

At the end of his internship, Gordon presented the results of his project, “Impact of Cannabinoids on Prostaglandin Synthesis in Activated Inflammatory Cells,” at one of the lab’s group meetings. “He showed good command of the project and was able to answer questions in a mature way,” Marnett said. “Members of my group were impressed with him.”

Likewise, Gordon was impressed with their team. “Without their help, guidance, and advice, I would have not been able to do any of this,” Gordon said.

“Congratulations to the top 300 scholars in this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search,” said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO, Society for Science. “We received a record-breaking number of applications this year; interest in this prestigious competition is at an all-time high. I am truly impressed by the quality of the projects and the ingenuity that each student brings to the competition. Their diligence, passion, and perseverance should be celebrated.”

After Gordon’s positive summer experience, he hopes to continue researching CBD and exploring his research results further. As for his future steps, Gordon plans to study biochemistry in college. “He has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and is serious about his career plans,” said Marnett.