DCAT Awards Scholarship at Intel ISEF 2019

Winning Projects Focused on Formulation

Robbinsville, New Jersey May 17, 2019 — The Drug, Chemical & Associated Technologies Association (DCAT) is proud to announce the winners of five scholarships presented at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) Special Awards Ceremony on May 16th in Phoenix, Arizona. As a Special Awards Organization, DCAT awarded $3,000 to four student projects and contributed $3,000 to the ISEF Education Outreach that brought 2,500 local students, many from underserved communities and schools, to view the exhibits and participate in hands-on science activities.  In addition, a $10,000 scholarship in honor of Dr. Frances H. Arnold, the 2018 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, was awarded to a senior, student finalist at the fair, planning to major in chemistry, chemical engineering, bioengineering, biochemistry or related area.

Intel ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. Each year, Intel ISEF brings together approximately 1,800 high school students from more than 75 countries, regions and territories to showcase their independent research and compete for an average of $5 million in total prizes.

“Intel ISEF is a marquee event that provides the DCAT organization with an efficient and effective way to support STEM education around the globe while promoting our industry and member companies,” said Scott Price, chairperson of DCAT’s Science & Scholarship Committee and Vice President, Sales at Ren-Pharm International, Ltd.  “I continue to be amazed at the knowledge, enthusiasm and dedication of these students. I’m convinced that many are headed toward a very bright future.”

Prior to the event, DCAT’s Science and Scholarship Committee evaluated project abstracts to establish a target list to be judged at the fair.  Mr. Price and Dr. Wenbin Dang, a committee volunteer and Senior Vice President of Product Development at Amerigen Pharmaceuticals, traveled to Phoenix to evaluate the science fair exhibits, interview the students, and determine the winners.

Dr. Dang jumped at the opportunity to judge the event because she was looking for a way to connect with science outside of her day to day business activities.  She said the fair seemed like a great way to observe what the next generation of young scientists are engaged in.  “This has been such a rewarding experience. The students are very impressive—so confident and articulate. All the projects represent a lot of hard work and motivation to carry out the experiments, to analyze the data and to reach a conclusion. But I am especially impressed by those students who discovered the unmet needs through their own initiatives, explored the literature, developed a hypothesis, designed the experiments to test that hypothesis and then found a way to execute their project.”

Winning Projects

Ruhi Sayana, a senior at The Harker School in San Jose, California, was awarded the $10,000 scholarship in honor of Dr. Frances H. Arnold for her project, Precision Care for Leukemia: Discovery of Novel Therapeutics for High-Risk ALL via Epigenetic and Computational Transcriptome Profiling.  By using a combined wet-lab and computational approach, her study identified highly-specific therapeutic targets and treatments for hypodiploid B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL), a high-risk form of childhood leukemia, to advance a streamlined, precision care approach for the disease. Using in vitro methods, she discovered that panobinostat, an HDAC inhibitor, preferentially induced apoptosis in cancer cells at clinically optimal concentrations (IC50s<10 nM), surpassing the current gold standard of FDA-approved chemotherapy options. To comprehensively characterize the role of epigenetics in this cancer and identify new specific targets, she developed a computational model to map protein-gene relations between aberrantly expressed epigenetic modulators and tumor suppressors that induce leukemia progression and subsequently validated her findings in vitro via western blots. She also developed and optimized a CRISPRi system in hypodiploid cell lines to further validate her computational findings.

In addition to being an ISEF finalist, Ruhi was among the 40 finalist for the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2019, a prestigious national math and science program of the Society for Science & the Public, sometimes referred to as the “Junior Nobel Prize.”

Ruhi is fascinated by the intersection of biology and computer science. This fall, she will attend Stanford University to study computational biology, with the goal of becoming a physician scientist so that she can meet with patients and conduct research.

Ashton Body, a junior at Episcopal School of Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL won for her project, Targeted Drug Delivery for Drug Resistant Cancer.  Motivated by the death of her aunt from cancer, she started the project in her school lab and then applied and was accepted to the SPARK Research Mentorship program at the Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville, FL campus.  Her goal was to find a drug delivery method that targeted cancer stems cells that was effective and exhibited less toxicity and side effects. She hypothesized that the combination of a p53 stabilizing agent and Doxorubicin, a chemotherapeutic agent, in a liposomal nanoparticle conjugated with the targeting ligand iRGD would increase drug sensitivity and promote cancer stem cell (CSC) death.  Her study found that the combination therapy decreased stemness, shown by decreased wound healing and proliferative abilities. Additionally, the combination therapy increased p53 protein expression and decreased MDM2 expression, indicating a synergistic mechanism.

Aditya Tummala, a freshman at Brooking High School in South Dakota, won for his project, Tampr-X: A Novel Technology to Combat Prescription Opioid Abuse.  His goal was to create an abuse-deterrent formulation that would deter physical and chemical tampering of opioid products while still providing safe use for pain.  His concept was to create a product similar to a gummy bear candy that would be resistant to the most common methods used to abuse the drugs: snorting and injection. He developed Tampr-X, a protein matrix-based technology, after trying 38 different formulations.  Tampr-X is simple and inexpensive to produce and resists all eight abuse tests recommended by the FDA and experts in the field. He has applied for a US patent for his formulation and is looking to partner with non-profit partners to test the formulation with actual opioids.   

Jack Boylan and Kavya Koneru are juniors at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky.  They won for their project, An Innovative Method of Room Temperature Biospecimen Preservation via Tetramethyl Orthosilane (Sol-Gel) Encapsulation and Polyethylene Glycol Extraction.  Their goal was to create a technology that can replace refrigeration and cryopreservation of sensitive proteins in order to alleviate the financial burdens associated with diagnosing various blood deficiencies. Using hemoglobin and fibrinogen as model proteins, they created a preservation mechanism using the two-step sol-gel process with a few alterations for faster and cheaper production. Tetramethyl orthosilane was hydrolyzed via microwave radiation (30 seconds) and was then condensed to form a silica-cage structure. Upon the addition of polyethylene glycol, the pores of the silica structure expanded allowing for the extraction of the protein. Their method increased the shelf life of hemoglobin from 48 hours to 31 days and fibrinogen from 4 hours to 5 days. In addition, the method allowed for over 72 samples to be created in under 30 minutes at a cost of only $6.

Margherita Tarocco, Manuela Ficco and Linda Grainca are juniors at the Istituto Tecnico Indsutriale G. Omar in Novara, Italy. They won for their project Colors in the Dark that created a customized painting kit for blind and visually impaired people using non-toxic ingredients extracted from plants and flowers. It was important to use natural, non-toxic sources because the user would be using their hands instead of a brush. They performed extraction and formulation experiments, ultimately producing scented paint formulations that took into account the non-toxicity of the product, currying time of the polymer, stability and intensity of the colors and the perfume releasing speed. The range of colors extracted were red, yellow, blue and brown, with additional colors obtained through mixing. The essential oils that were added to the paint to stimulate the olfactory senses were extracted from lavender, violet, rose, pine, and bergamot. The kit also includes paper embossed with images to use with the paints.

About DCAT

The Drug, Chemical & Associated Technologies Association (DCAT) is a not-for-profit, global business development association whose unique membership model integrates both innovator and generic drug manufacturers and suppliers of ingredients, development and manufacturing services, and related technologies. We are committed to provide programs, events and services that help our members meet their business objectives, expand their network of customers and suppliers, and gain insight into industry trends, markets, and those issues impacting pharmaceutical development and manufacturing. With over 400 corporate members, DCAT is headquartered in Robbinsville, New Jersey.