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Science Research Wins National Distinction

Krishan Kania, right, and  Alexander Nie – won semifinalists honors in the national Intel Science Talent Search. Credits: LPS
Two Livingston High School seniors – Krishan Kania and  Alexander Nie – won semifinalists honors in the national Intel Science Talent Search (STS) for their research projects that could optimize the healing process and lead to better cancer diagnosis.
 
Intel is the nation's oldest competition for teenage researchers, bringing together the best and brightest young scientific minds. Kania and Nie will receive a $1,000 award from the Intel Foundation. LHS will also receive an additional $2,000 from the foundation for the achievements of its two semi-finalists.  
 
The LHS students join a distinguished list of student researchers. Alumni of STS have made extraordinary contributions to science and hold more than 100 of the world's most coveted science and math honors, including seven Nobel Prizes and four National Medals of Science.
 
Kania’s project, titled, “Making an IMPACT: Advancing the Computation of Next-Generation Sequencing Data,” involved the creation of a computer program that has now been packaged into a larger software called "IMPACT" (Integrated Mutation Profiling of Actionable Cancer Targets).  The project has been published in three academic journals in the field of bioinformatics.  In addition to Intel, Kana was named a semi-finalist in the Siemens Competition in October.

"Traditionally, we think of cancer in terms of its location: lung, pancreas, etc. However, with the quantitative background of the scientists involved in The Cancer Genome Atlas and my mentors at the Berger lab in Sloan-Kettering, cancer is starting to be described in terms of genomics, on the resolution of DNA,” Kania explained. “IMPACT (Integrated Mutation Profiling of Actionable Cancer Targets) refers to one assay that has adopted DNA sequencing technology to better diagnosis cancer patients.”
 
“Each sequencing assay differs from one another due to a number of methods generally categorized as library preparation, sequencing, and data analysis.  Projects such as The Cancer Genome Atlas have developed assays designed to study common cancer types from high profile tissue,” he said. “IMPACT, however, recognizes that truly personalized cancer medicine will come from assays that can make strong conclusions, but with lower quality, and more clinically feasible, tissue specimens.  Experimental techniques of IMPACT have addressed this well, but there is still much to be resolved computationally.  For personalized cancer medicine, investigators will need a computational methodology that promises speed and confidence, two important necessities for effective patient care.”
 
“With this in mind, I developed a computer program, which has been implemented in assays such as IMPACT, to more efficiently analyze next-generation sequencing data from cancer tissues.  The results of this project can be best summarized as a program that performs 568 times as fast as the traditional methodologies, while presenting more informative and developed metrics.  When implemented into IMPACT, this program is part of the collective effort to produce better outcomes in cancer patients, and make cancer a more manageable disease."
 
Nie examined “Gelatin Hydrogels as a Cellular Scaffold: The Effect of Glucose on Gel Structure and Fibroblast Behavior.”

“My project studied the effects of glucose, a simple sugar, on hydrogels made of gelatin, a material derived from animal tissue,” he explained. “Specifically, my project analyzed the gel's hardness, surface features, and ability to promote cell growth and migration. Overall, I found that optimal hydrogels have glucose concentrations near normal blood sugar levels (2mg/mL). At 2mg/ml, the sugar not only strengthens the gel, but also promotes cell growth and migration. Therefore, hydrogels used in cell delivery should mimic the body's blood sugar levels to optimize the healing process.”

“We at Livingston High School are very proud of both Kris and Alex.  Both of these young men continue to challenge themselves with rigorous schedules and participation in numerous science clubs, competitions and summer experiences,” said Brian Carey, Chairman of the LHS Science Department and Director of Science Research.

“Kris and Alex both sought out opportunities to further their science and research knowledge and skills this past summer and their hard work has clearly paid off,” Carey said.

The Intel STS recognizes 300 students and their schools as semifinalists each year. From that select pool, 40 finalists are then invited to Washington, DC, undergo final judging, display their work to the public, meet with notable scientists, and compete for the top award of $100,000.

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