Matt Hennings, a senior at OPRF High School, placed second at the state science symposium by creating an antibiotic with plant materials. David Pierini/Staff Photographer

It’s not everyday that a high school student creates his own bacteria-fighting drug that could eventually be sold in drug stores.

Last spring, Matthew Henning, a senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, created such a substance using whole-wheatgrass for his class science project. His inspiration for the project was personal.

His grandfather, Fred Henning, was hospitalized last year with a staph infection. Henning recalled his granddad joking about his project, saying he sure could have used his grandson’s “medicine” earlier. Creating the disease-fighting substance is as difficult as it might sound.

It involved extracting the juice from the wheatgrass plant. Henning was trying to find natural substances that could be used to fight bacteria. There was some trial-n-error involved during the process.

There’s no one blueprint, Henning learned, in creating an antimicrobial agent — that is, a substance that can kill certain microorganisms, like bacteria.

“I first started with wheatgrass because wheatgrass has been known to have antimicrobial properties. It’s been used by Native Americans and such,” Henning said, speaking from his OPRF science classroom on a Friday afternoon while working on a new project.

He tested his drug on six different bacteria. All of his work was done over several months beginning in fall 2011. Henning worked during science class, after school and on weekends. He also encountered some surprises during his experiment.

After all his work, equations and lab work, Henning ended up with a yellow-colored substance, about a half-liter worth of it. He still doesn’t know why it ended up yellow, which didn’t have any effect one way or another on his final product. He supposes it could have ended up any color but turned out to be yellow in the end.

Henning now wants to patent his substance and hopes to one day see it used in medical drugs. Patents don’t come cheap, he learned; costing upwards of $2000 dollars.

“I really want to patent it. Of course it costs a lot of money so I’m still trying to get those funds to do that,” he said. “Once you patent it, then it’s like out there. Then people can come to you and say hey, I think you’re drug is pretty cool.”

His mom, Allison, who teaches science at OPRF, said she and her husband will help Matthew with his patent, but Matthew will also raise some of the money himself. She was also impressed with her son’s creativity. Henning also got a lot of positive feedback around school.

“All of my teachers thought it was amazing that I did this,” he said. “My family was all supportive. My uncle, he’s a doctor; he thought it was really good that I did this. He wanted to know when it was going to hit the shelves.”

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