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