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Painkiller and Lung Cancer Research Pays Off for California and Oregon Students With Siemens Competition Regional Win at California Institute of Technology

Young Scientists Gain Opportunity to Shine on National Stage

PASADENA, Calif., Nov. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Months of dedication and hard work in science, technology, engineering and math (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. Research on a promising "painless painkiller" earned top honors and the $3,000 Individual scholarship for Raghav Tripathi of Portland, Oregon.  Research that could help improve the treatment and prevention of lung cancer won the $6,000 Team scholarship for Thomas Luh of San Jose, California, and Joy Jin of Palo Alto, California.

The students presented their research this weekend to a panel of judges from California Institute of Technology, host of the Region 1 Finals. They are now invited to present their work on a national stage at the National Finals in Washington, DC, December 1-4, 2012, 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 students have invested time, energy and talent in tackling challenging scientific research at a young age," said Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation.  "The recognition they have won today demonstrates that engagement in STEM is an investment well worth making."

The Winning Individual

Raghav Tripathi, a senior at Westview High School in Portland, Oregon, won the individual category and a $3,000 college scholarship for identifying a potential anti-inflammatory drug that may reduce the unintended side-effects and addiction associated with modern painkillers.

In his project, Design and Synthesis of Novel Fatty Acid Binding Protein Inhibitors for Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects through Increases in Endogenous Anandamide Concentrations, Raghav investigated a compound called anandamide which is naturally released in the body to slow pain. By increasing anandamide levels in the body, Raghav speculated he could potentially reduce the side-effects of foreign medications.

"This project was amazing in scale," said competition judge Dr. Bil Clemons, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, Caltech Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. "The body of work that Raghav presented, computationally identifying a molecule then making it followed by testing in the lab, is something that an accomplished graduate researcher would be proud of.  It is very reasonable to say that his work could lead to new pain medications."

Raghav was inspired to tackle the subject of painkillers when his mother broke her leg in a skiing accident and refused to take medication during her recovery. Wondering why she refused medication, he investigated and discovered that painkillers have countless unintended adverse effects.  The irony of relieving pain using medication that causes more pain motivated him to create a new form of painkillers. Raghav founded and serves as president of the Westview Pre-Medical Association – with over 150 members, the largest youth pre-medical society in Oregon.  Captain of the speech and debate team and a Varsity tennis player, this high school senior aspires to be a practicing neurologist.  Raghav won first place best in category in cellular and molecular biology at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.  He was mentored by Professor Iwao Ojima, Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discover, Stony Brook University.

The Winning Team

Thomas Luh, a junior at Leland High School in San Jose, California, and Joy Jin, a sophomore at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California, won the team category and will share a $6,000 scholarship for research that aims to improve the treatment and prevention of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. 

In their project, Hedgehog-Gli Signaling Promotes Cell Proliferation and Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition in Lung Cancer, the team discovered the relationship between two proteins critical in the development and formation of cancer. This allowed them to interfere with the metastasis process to better understand it and possibly develop novel therapeutic strategies.

"Thomas and Joy have uncovered a potentially important mechanism of lung cancer metastasis," said competition judge Dr. Jim Heath, Elizabeth W. Gilloon Professor and Professor of Chemistry, California Institute of Technology. "Metastatic cancers are almost always deadly, and so it is hard to think of a more important problem in oncology. Their work has the potential to lead to new and effective therapies. They are a remarkably gifted team. "

Thomas was inspired to pursue his research by the loss of his grandfather, great-aunt and uncle to various cancers.  A junior, he is the founder and president of his school's Science National Honor Society chapter and won second place in the biochemistry/microbiology category at the Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship.  Thomas received a diploma in piano performance from The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music at the age of 14 and performs music competitively.   He plans to study biology, biochemistry, biophysics and pre-medicine towards a career as a healthcare provider.

Joy took up competitive figure skating at the age of four and is a record-holder for the youngest individual to qualify for the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships, a feat she has accomplished four times.  She was a gold medalist in the 2012 U.S. National Figure Skating Solo Dance Championships and is a recipient of the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Special Achievement Award.  Joy volunteers at the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  She is considering molecular biology, neuroscience, and cancer biology as college majors and aspires to be a surgeon or oncological researcher.

The team was mentored by Dr. Hu Li, Thoracic Oncology Laboratory, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Regional Finalists

The remaining regional finalists each received a $1,000 scholarship.  Regional Finalists in the individual category were:

  • Paulomi Bhattacharya, Cupertino, California
  • Rohan Chandra, Fremont, California
  • Ashvin Swaminathan, Cupertino, California
  • Emily Tao, Placentia, California

Team Regional Finalists were:

  • Arjun Balasingam and Namrata Balasingam, San Jose, California
  • Zareen Choudhury, Sunnyvale, California, and Caroline Debs, Monte Sereno, California
  • Vivek Jayaram and Rachit Singh, Pullman, Washington
  • Brandon Kao, Placentia, California, and Tony Dong, Newbury Park, California

The Siemens Competition
Launched in 1998, the Siemens Competition is the nation's premier science research competition for high school students.  2,255 students registered to enter the Siemens Competition this year for a total 1,504 projects submitted.  323 students were named semifinalists and 93 were named regional finalists, representing 25 states.  Entries are judged at the regional level by esteemed scientists at six leading research universities which 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.

Follow us on the road to the Siemens Competition:  Follow us on Twitter @SFoundation (#SiemensComp) and like us on Facebook at SiemensFoundation.  Then visit www.siemens-foundation.org at 9:30am EST on December 4 for a live webcast of the National Finalist Awards Presentation.

The Siemens Foundation
The Siemens Foundation provides more than $7 million annually in support of educational initiatives in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the United States. Its signature programs include the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, Siemens Awards for Advanced Placement, and The Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, which encourages K-12 students to develop innovative green solutions for environmental issues.  By supporting outstanding students today, and recognizing the teachers and schools that inspire their excellence, the Foundation helps nurture tomorrow's scientists and engineers.  The Foundation's mission is based on the culture of innovation, research and educational support that is the hallmark of Siemens' U.S. companies and its parent company, Siemens AG.  For more information, visit www.siemens-foundation.org.

The College Board
The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the College Board was created to expand access to higher education. Today, the membership association is made up of more than 6,000 of the world's leading educational institutions and is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education. Each year, the College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success — including the SAT® and the Advanced Placement Program®. The organization also serves the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools.  For further information, visit www.collegeboard.org.

SOURCE The Siemens Foundation

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