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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

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.

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