Months of dedication and hard work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) paid off tonight for three students named National Finalists in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, the nation's premier research competition for high school students.
Frederick Lang of Houston, Texas earned the top honors and a $3,000 individual scholarship for research on cancer therapeutics. Research on vaccine development earned Alyssa Chen and Shriya Das, both of Dallas, Texas the $6,000 team scholarship.
The students presented their research this weekend to a panel of judges from The University of Texas at Austin, host of the Region Two Finals. They are now invited to present their work on a national stage at the National Finals in Washington, D.C., December 7-10, 2013, where $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded, including two top prizes of $100,000. The Siemens Competition, a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, is administered by the College Board.
"These incredible students have invested significant time and energy to advance research and exploration in critical fields," said David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation. "I commend the Region Two winners for their outstanding achievements and wish them luck in the next phase of the competition."
The Winning Individual
Frederick Lang, a senior at St. John's School in Houston, Texas, won the individual category and a $3,000 scholarship for his project, entitled Human Bone Marrow Mesenchymal Stem Cells as Biofactories for Exosomes Containing Anti-Glioblastoma miRNA.
For his project, Frederick identified a potential new treatment for the most malignant form of adult brain cancer. Using an innovative approach to RNA-based therapy, he reprogrammed the body's own cells to reduce their toxicity in the brain. His research demonstrates the ability to harness the natural power of stem cells to create therapeutics that could eventually be used to go after cancerous tumors.
"It's top-tier science. Frederick discovered what could be a very promising new approach to treating cancer by making human cells transgenic," said competition judges Dr. Janice Fischer, professor, and Dr. Blerta Xhemalce, assistant professor, both in Molecular Biosciences, The University of Texas at Austin. "He commands a breadth of knowledge in technique and tools that is impressive for a high school student. The sophistication of the approach and the science of his research could serve as a cornerstone publication in the field."
Inspired by his parents' work as physicians in a cancer center, Frederick similarly is keen to pursue a profession in biomedical research, or as an engineer allowing him to apply both math and science. He is a National Merit Scholar Semifinalist, and a member of the Junior States of America club. Additionally, he is captain of his school's varsity soccer team and a two-year participant and "lead teacher" in the school's annual community service trip to Costa Rica.
His mentor is Dr. Anwar Hossain, senior research scientist, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Department of Neurosurgery.
The Winning Team
Alyssa Chen, a junior at Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas, and Shriya Das, a junior at The Hockaday School in Dallas, Texas, won the team category and will share a $6,000 scholarship for their project entitled, Encapsulation of c-di-GMP Adjuvant into pH-tunable Micelle-based Nanoparticle Heightens Immune Response.
In their research on vaccine development, Alyssa and Shriya merged the disciplines of nanotechnology and immunology to develop adjuvants, molecules that can boost immune responses. By encapsulating the adjuvant, the team was able to increase its potency and facilitate its delivery directly into the immune cell. The team's discovery could have the potential to develop more vaccines for cancer and difficult-to-cure infectious diseases.
"Their innovative approach bridges two disparate disciplines that may one day yield a new class of powerful vaccines for treating devastating human diseases," said competition judge Dr. Ilya Finkelstein, assistant professor, Molecular Biosciences, The University of Texas at Austin. "The students' command of their research project and the broader scientific aims is on par with that of advanced graduate students. This work may one day stand on its own as an important contribution to usher in a new era of vaccine development."
Alyssa is the secretary and three-time all-region member of the Highlander String Orchestra and a Decathlete in the Academic Decathalon. Her deep-seated interest in biology sparked her desire to become a gastroenterologist.
Shriya is heavily involved in the arts with key roles in her honors choir, the school's annual musical, and Indian classical music and dance performances. She also participates in her high school's robotics club and tutors in reading and math. Shriya aspires to a career in medicine or technology.
The team's mentor is Dr. Jinming Gao, professor, Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
The remaining regional finalists each received a $1,000 scholarship.
Regional Finalists in the individual category were:
Stacy Ho, Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, Denton, Texas
Silin Li, Vestavia Hills High School, Vestavia Hills, Ala.
William Ou, Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, Denton, Texas
Piper Reid, Dripping Springs High School, Dripping Springs, Texas
Team Regional Finalists were:
Jia-Uei Chen, C. Leon King High School, Tampa, Fla.; Patrick Guo, Westwood High School, Austin, Texas; and Jessica Yu, Westwood High School, Austin, Texas
Angeline Rao, William P. Clements High School, Sugar Land, Texas; Vinciane Chen, Westwood High School, Austin, Texas; and Alexander Yang, William P. Clements High School, Sugar Land, Texas
Shaayaan Sayed, Dulles High School, Sugar Land, Texas; and Bassel Saleh, Dulles High School, Sugar Land, Texas
Evan Shegog, Bellaire High School, Bellaire, Texas; and Joshua Wang, Bellaire High School, Bellaire, Texas
The Siemens Competition
Launched in 1998, the Siemens Competition is the nation's premier science research competition for high school students. A record 2,440 students registered for this year's competition and a total of 1,599 projects were submitted for consideration. Three hundred thirty-one students were named Semifinalists and 100 were named Regional Finalists. Entries are judged at the regional level by esteemed scientists at six leading research universities that host the regional competitions: California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Notre Dame and The University of Texas at Austin.
For news and announcements about the Regional Competitions and the National Finals, follow us on Twitter @SFoundation (#SiemensComp) and like us on Facebook at SiemensFoundation. A live webcast of the National Finalist Awards Presentation will also be available online at 9:30am EST on December 10: www.siemens-foundation.org.
Press release avilable from http://www.prnewswire.com/