May 31, 2002

Tin full of hope — Isenstein kids give money in memory of sister

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Dr. Marshall Summar receives a gift of research funds from brothers Evan, Noah, and Ben Isenstein, and friend Seth Akers-Campbell (left to right). Proud parents Linda Nathenson and Joel Isenstein, along with longtime babysitter Melissa Waites, join in the presentation. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

Tin full of hope — Isenstein kids give money in memory of sister

Evan rounded the corner first. Close on his heels came Ben and Seth, then Noah, racing ahead of them all. As Dr. Marshall Summar moved toward them, they pulled up short at his feet and thrust a square purple- and gold-enameled box into his hands, chattering excitedly.

“It’s pretty full — there’s even a Euro in there,” Evan said, standing on tiptoe to help Summar remove the ornate lid emblazoned with a photo of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.

The brothers — Ben, 9, Evan, 7, and Noah, 4 — along with Ben’s best friend Seth, 10, had made a special after-school trip to Summar’s lab to present him with the tin box crammed with folded bills and loose coins. The crew raised the money, $250 total, to support his research in pediatric genetics. Though he couldn’t make the trip that day, Seth’s brother Holt, 8, was also part of the team effort.

“We had a lemonade stand,” Evan said, with Ben and Seth chiming in and Noah bouncing from one foot to the other, grinning broadly, “but we got most of the money by traveling through the neighborhood, telling people what we were doing.”

The brothers got the idea for fund raising after Summar treated their baby sister, Anna, who died earlier this year from problems associated with what was most likely either an exceedingly rare or an unrecognized genetic disorder. Some of Anna’s DNA was frozen for later study.

“The way they wanted to remember her was by doing something for pediatric research,” Summar said, “not necessarily related to what affected their sister. They just wanted to help out other kids.”

The boys got a chance to learn more about the world of medical research when Summar gave them a guided tour of his laboratories. A simple lesson from Summar defined DNA (“directions for the body”), explained how to separate DNA fragments in a gel (“made from seaweed goo”), and showed how to visualize the DNA by silver-staining (“just like in photography”).

Captivated by the exotic equipment they saw, each boy clamored for a turn trying out the pipetter, a hand-held tool used to measure very small volumes of liquid. “This is one-millionth of a gallon,” Summar said while they watched wide-eyed as the plunger caused water to crawl up into the pipetter’s conical plastic tip.

Ending up the tour with a trip through the “magical” revolving darkroom door, Summar answered the chorus of thank-yous he got from the group with a thank-you of his own.

“Guys, this is just about the nicest thing I’ve ever had anyone do. I really appreciate it,” he said. “This money will go directly to research for kids.”

Impressed by their enthusiasm and their pipetting skills, he added encouragingly, “There’s so much new coming out in genetics that by the time you guys get out of college, we’re gonna need you. If you decide to become biologists, there will be lots of work for you to do.”

“Well, we’ll be coming back next year!” Ben said, suggesting that the brothers have no intention to let this tribute to their sister be their last. Thinking of Anna, Evan added a hopeful wish. “Maybe you will have figured it out by then,” he said.

“You never know, Evan,” Summar said. “We’re sure going to work on it.”