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  (Source: nlm.nih.gov)
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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