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CLSA Wire

Monta Vista High School Student Winner of Biotechnology Research Competition

Natalie Ng, a sophomore from Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California was named the First Place finalist in the 2012 Amgen Bay Area BioGENEius Challenge held April 19 at the J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco. Thirty-one high school students presented complex research models ranging from nanoparticles to brine shrimp to fuel cells. The BioGENEius Challenge is the premier competition for high school students that recognizes outstanding research in biotechnology.

It is inspiring to see the caliber of research of this year’s participants and we wish our finalists all the best as they advance to the National BioGENEius Challenge in Boston. We were privileged to have the support of Amgen and The J. David Gladstone Institutes for this regional competition and extended programming to help inspire the next generation of biotechnology industry leaders.

Ng is one of three finalists. The two other 2012 Amgen Bay Area BioGENEiuses are Second Place winner Nikhil Buduma, a junior from Bellarmine College Prepatory in San Jose, and Third Place winner Eric Jang, a senior at Cupertino High School.

As a result of the sponsorship of Amgen, which underwrote the Bay Area BioGENEius Challenge, all three finalists received cash awards and one-year family memberships to the California Academy of Sciences.  The Biotechnology Institute, based in Washington, DC, will provide Ng, Budhuma and their mentors with an all-expense paid trip to compete in the U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge and International BioGENEius Challenge competitions, June 17 – 19 during the 2012 Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention in Boston. Jang is an alternate.

“The Amgen Bay Area BioGENEius Challenge gave me a tremendous opportunity to speak with so many experts in the field,” said Ng. “I received a lot of insightful comments and helpful criticism from the judges that I plan to apply as I continue my research.”

In her winning project, titled “Interrogation of Cancer: Development of a Novel Biomarker Discovery Tool to Identify Clinical Signatures from Statistically Deconvoluted Expressions,” Ng developed a novel biomarker discovery tool and an automated statistical gene expression deconvolution procedure to identify prognostic signatures for breast cancer. This tool helps bridge the gap between work with synchronized single-cell populations in laboratory studies and work with heterogeneous cell populations in real world patient tissue samples.

Buduma’s research project, titled “Pertussis Toxin-Mediated Inhibition of Lymphocyte Trafficking in to Lung Tissue: Considerations for an Improved Whooping Cough Vaccine,” used fluorescence imaging and flow cytometry to discover that a component of the infant vaccine for whooping cough, pertussis toxin, downregulates the expression of two integrins that are critical for lymphocyte homing. This delays the recruitment of immune cells to the lungs, perhaps impairing the infant’s immune defenses. Ultimately, these results indicate that a more protective vaccine may be developed by removing pertussis toxin from the current formulation.

Jang’s project, titled “Massively Parallel Virtual Screening using Facebook,” used the Facebook social networking platform to provide a simple user interface for distributed, crowd-sourced drug screening. Social Docking achieves inexpensive virtual drug screening by implementing molecular mechanics simulations within the web browser, without the requirement for any user input or software installation. Eric screened the publicly-available 3D molecule library, ZINC, for binding three enzyme targets in his proof-of-concept studies.

At the local, U.S. National and International BioGENEius Challenge competitions, students are evaluated on the quality of their research and display, as well as on their responses to questions relating to their scientific knowledge and potential commercial applications of their research.

“This event is a great opportunity to propel student achievement and connect the next generation of biotechnology researchers with industry experts,” said David Lacey, the event’s MC and one of the judges. “The quality of student research, posters and oral presentations improves year over year.”

Following their poster presentations, students heard an inspiring keynote address by Susan Molineaux, PhD, CEO of Calithera Biosciences, and heard personal stories from biotechnology experts during an interactive career panel.

“If I hadn’t had this experience, I’m not sure I would be as interested in science as I am now,” said second place winner Nikhil Buduma. “The environment you cultivate here at the Amgen Bay Area BioGENEius Challenge is just amazing.”

The Bay Area BioGENEius Challenge is organized by the BayBio Institute, with generous support from Amgen. The National and International BioGENEius Challenges are organized by the Biotechnology Institute, the national organization dedicated to biotechnology education, and sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the sanofi-aventis group, a leading global pharmaceutical company, and Janssen, pharmaceutical companies of Johnson&Johnson. Sanofi Pasteur has sponsored the BioGENEius Challenge since its inception in 1994. In addition to Sanofi Pasteur and Janssen, support for the BioGENEius Challenge is provided by International Sponsors The Astellas Foundation, Genentech, and MedImmune, and U.S. National Sponsors Acorda Therapeutics, The Allergan Foundation and Sangamo BioSciences.