Print 10 comment(s) - last by mustaka.. on May 18 at 10:12 AM

Marshall Zhang's treatment proved to be effective on living cells

A 16-year-old high school student may have found a new, viable treatment for cystic fibrosis through the use of computer simulations 

Marshall Zhang, an 11th grade student at Richmond Hill's Bayview Secondary School in Toronto, Canada, used a supercomputer system to figure out how certain drugs react with proteins associated with cystic fibrosis. 

Cystic fibrosis is a recessive genetic disease that causes thick mucus to build up in the lungs and throughout the body causing progressive disability and even death. This disease occurs in about 1 out of 3,000 live births, and has no cure. 

Zhang grew interested in disease-related research after taking Advanced Placement Biology in the 10th grade. He wanted to work in a laboratory with real scientists, so he started getting in touch with local professors to see if he could participate in their research labs.

While many biochemistry professors at the University of Toronto rejected Zhang's idea due to his lack of experience, Dr. Christine Bear, a researcher at the Hospital for Sick Children's Research Institute in Toronto, welcomed him to her lab.  

While working at Bear's lab, Zhang utilized the Canadian SCINET supercomputing network to see how new compounds reacted to the proteins associated with cystic fibrosis. Through a series of computer simulations, he found that a combination of different drugs could be used simultaneously without impacting one another to treat cystic fibrosis. In fact, these findings were tested on living cells proved to be effective.  

"I have identified certain chemical structures that are key in the corrective effects of these molecules, as well as identified two molecular targets on the protein for future therapeutics," said Zhang.  

Zhang realizes that his discovery may not pan out once tested on humans because treatments sometimes turn out to be ineffective or even toxic. But he believes his research will be crucial to cystic fibrosis studies regardless. 

Zhang's research landed him a first place award at the 2011 Sanofi-Aventis BioTalent Challenge on Tuesday, which is a contest where students conduct research projects with mentors. 

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Its sad.
By icanhascpu on 5/15/2011 10:24:03 PM , Rating: 5
While many biochemistry professors at the University of Toronto rejected Zhang's idea due to his lack of experience

T'is a fool of those experienced to forget the open mind of youth. Guide the inexperienced mind, lest all we know will ebb with time.

RE: Its sad.
By someguy123 on 5/15/2011 11:18:43 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sure they could see that he, at the very least, had a high level of interest and intelligence. Those oldhats just fear new talent skating on by while they struggle to adapt to new technology.

RE: Its sad.
By Strunf on 5/16/2011 7:45:45 AM , Rating: 4
The use of supercomputers to do simulations has been around for ages... there's nothing new about supercomputers, there's nothing new about simulations, there's isn't a single bit of "new technology" on this article.

What you fail to see is that most professors have space, time and money constraints, hence why they prefer to hire more experienced personnel, cause frankly the chances of getting something out of them is much higher than from inexperienced ones.

RE: Its sad.
By mustaka on 5/18/2011 10:12:54 AM , Rating: 3
Experience is not enough when it comes to innovation. Right, supercomputers has been around for ages. But where were those experienced people when this boy managed to think of an apparently simple test for a rare disease. Sometimes a fresh and clear mind is superior to those full of conditionings and preconceptions. Hope of new discoveries out of experienced minds which didn't produce one for years, frankly, is not high enough. Perhaps we need to replace minds having little or no success for a sufficiently long time with fresh ones more frequently. Experience is nice and good, but how should one get it without a chance?

RE: Its sad.
By Chaosforce on 5/16/2011 8:44:55 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Its sad.
By mmatis on 5/16/2011 9:50:09 AM , Rating: 3
And which of their graduate students would you have them cut to enable this student to take their place? Be careful, because if you end up cutting a Preferred Species then FedGov will be on your case. And yes, that happens in Canada as well. Heck, even the UK's "conservative" Cameron was recently railing against England's top universities for not having enough Preferred Species. Even though almost all of same did not meet even the most basic of their academic qualifications.

RE: Its sad.
By foolsgambit11 on 5/16/2011 5:46:16 PM , Rating: 2
First off, kudos to the 11th grader for being interested and involved in the sciences.

However, I do wonder how much of this research was actually the 11th grader's work, and how much of this is playing up his involvement for the benefit of the research department at the school. Either way, more money for practical research, especially into things like cystic fibrosis, is great. But, cynical me, I wonder if this is mostly a PR stunt, and the kid was just doing data entry, or cleaning petri dishes, or something like that.

Even if that is the case, that's still one more youngster who is developing good basic laboratory skills, and is at least observing the operations of a scientific research program. So it would still be a win-win.

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