Focus on 2017 Regeneron Scholars Serena Tam and Grace Hu
By CAROLINE CHEN
An extracellular matrix (ECM) targeting microRNA (miR-29) and its novel association with matricellular protein thrombospondin-2 (TSP2)
Although science research focuses on all fields of science, the extracellular matrix within the human body is largely understudied. Thus, Serena decided to focus on the mechanisms of extracellular matrix regulation, specifically on an essential regulatory protein called Thrombospondin-2.
“I discovered that this protein was regulated by a microRNA called miR-29, and by understanding these key interactions within the extracellular matrix, scientists may develop treatment for tumors, systemic sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more,” explained Serena.
The Siemens National Semifinalist credits her improvement as a scientist and her getting to know “a group of brilliant scientists that are incredibly supportive and amazing” to the science research program.
Last year, Serena won 1st Place in the Biology Category and 3rd Best in Fair at NYSSEF Andromeda. She also won 1st Place in the Biology Category and Best in Fair at the Nassau County Science Competition.
Outside of research, Serena is captain of the fencing team, which “has also helped [her] to learn what it is like to be part of a community that is competitive yet fun.”
Advanced Au-SPIONs: Synthesis and Comparison of Multifunctional Nanoparticles for Personalized Nanomedicine
In her lab, Grace synthesized nanoparticles for multifunctional biomedicine, with applications in MRI tissue imaging, drug delivery, and photothermal therapy.
“Essentially, the nanoparticle model is of superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) coated with gold (Au) nanoshells to take advantage of both magnetic and optical properties. My last year’s research tested photothermal therapy by irradiating the nanoparticles and determining temperature elevation, which was rapid and could efficiently destroy tumors without harming healthy tissue. For this year, I extended my research into the field of tissue engineering, where I conjugated my Au-SPIO nanoparticles with nerve growth factor (NGF) protein. By combining an external magnetic field with my NGF-Au-SPIO nanoparticles, I was able to significantly increase PC12 cell differentiation into the neuronal phenotype, increase neurite extension, and promote neurite alignment along the radially outwards magnetic field direction. In addition, cell viability test for the NGF-Au-SPIO nanospheres showed significant increase in cell survival and proliferation up to 130% after 24 hours and 72 hours,” explained Grace.
“Overall, these NGF-Au-SPIO nanoparticles are an innovative means to facilitate nerve regeneration in the brain, and future research may be conducted to achieve stem cell tracking via MRI or drug delivery across an in vitro blood brain barrier.”
The science research class has pushed Grace to her best, encouraging her to strive hard “to not only keep up with everyone, but to stand out.” Grace said, “I think science research, and well anything valuable in life, is something you work extremely hard to achieve success for. Science research has taught me to be well-rounded, creative, and most of all, enduring. Through research I met the coolest people around the world, made lots of great friends, and found a family in my classmates. And learning under Dr. McCalla has been one of the most extraordinary privileges of my life, transforming me into a dedicated (and sleep-deprived) fighter.”
Grace is a 2017 Regeneron STS Scholar and Siemens Competition National Semifinalist. Last year, Grace placed 1st at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair (LISEF) in the Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering Category and won the ASM Materials Education International Foundation Award. She also earned 1st place in the Materials Science Category and the ASM Special Award at NYSSEF. These outstanding accomplishments allowed Grace to move on to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), where she won the 1st Place Grand Award in Materials Science, earned a full scholarship ($190K) to Drexel University, and had an asteroid named in her honor.
In addition, Grace was the Engineering Category 1st Place Winner at NYSSEF Andromeda (where she was also Top 10 Best in Fair), earned Highest Honors and 3rd Place Best in Category in Biology at LISC, and was part of the Lexus Eco Challenge National 1st Place Winning Team of 2016.
Outside of research and schoolwork, Grace enjoys running Cross Country with her team, playing badminton, reading, listening to music, hanging out with friends, and watching television. She is an active member in Debate Club, Environmental Club, and Mathletes.