Do we each have our own story about science fair? Mine is about that time my grandpa and I set fire to my parents’ garage while testing out the new corn stove we had built together. We were looking into cleaner fuels. It was a small fire, easily squelched, fortunately.
But in the rite of passage that is the science fair, two Duke-mentored high schoolers are not embarking on half-baked projects with non-scientific relatives like mine, but are instead blazing new trails in science with all of the high-end equipment and faculty mentoring that Duke has to offer.
Katherine Yang and Alisa Cui, of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, are presenting their results in Phoenix this week in Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), a prestigious annual science fair that convenes 1,700 of the best and brightest STEM students from around the world
Working in Qiu Wang’s group, Yang has discovered a potential new drug to treat cancer, focusing on a protein targeted called CARM1, which is known to cause breast and prostate cancers to grow uncontrollably.
Yang’s new molecule blocks CARM1. What’s more, in the process of narrowing her list of five candidates, she developed a new cell-based test that can inform the development of future screening tools for other CARM1 inhibitors.
Cui has worked in Jorg Grandl’s lab on the mechanism by which a family of proteins called Piezo ion channels allow cells to detect mechanical touch and eventually become desensitized to repeated stimulation and shut off. By recording the electrical activity of cells that express one type of Piezo, Cui determined that the channels do not use a particular type of shutdown mechanism that researchers had previously thought. Now, the group will move on to test another major mechanism.
On Friday, it was announced that Alisa had won a fourth place grand award in Cellular and Molecular Biology, which includes a $500 prize.
“I am very impressed by the impact Alisa made,” said Grandl, who is a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. “The data she collected helped starting a completely new line of research,” in understanding how these channels deal with repeated stimulations, such as vibrations.
Growing up, I was oblivious to the existence of international science fairs but my own experiences ignited a lifelong love for science. I can only hope that these young ladies felt something similar.
Guest Post by Kelly Rae Chi