17-year-old high school student makes a cancer stem cell breakthrough
When we report on breakthroughs in stem cell research, we typically link to well-funded studies published in peer-reviewed journals by world-renowned scientists. This time, it’s a little different.
Angela Zhang, a high school senior from Cupertino, California, was awarded a $100,000 scholarship for her submission to the 2011 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology: A “gold and iron oxide-based nanoparticle” designed to seek out and destroy tumour-causing cancer stem cells.
In essence, Zhang’s nanoparticle is designed to seek out cancer stem cells in order to deliver salinomycin, a drug that has been found to be very effective at killing breast cancer stem cells in mice, to the cancerous area. Once the particles reach their target, the drug can then be activated with a laser. An added benefit is the inclusion of a gold and iron-oxide base designed to allow for MRI and Photoacoustic imaging, which allows for easier tracking of both the delivery and effect of the drug. The 17-year-old estimates she’s spent about 1,000 hours working on the project.
The Siemens’ competition web site included this comment from one of the judges:
"Angela created a nanoparticle that is like a Swiss army knife of cancer treatment," said competition judge Dr. Tejal Desai, Professor, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, University of California, San Francisco. "She showed great creativity and initiative in designing a nanoparticle system that can be triggered to release drugs at the site of the tumor while also allowing for non-invasive imaging. Her work is an important step in developing new approaches to the therapeutic targeting of tumors via nanotechnology."
The work is still entirely theoretical, but it holds promise as an effective cancer treatment in its ability to target the cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue. There is considerable work (some of which we’ve profiled on this blog) being done in pursuit of more effective cancer treatments, and Zhang’s innovative approach is one of many in the burgeoning area of nanomedicine that may find their way into our medical system in the coming decades.