Angela Zhang is a real life Doogie Howser – while other high school kids were busy texting and updating their Facebook pages, Zhang has been hard at work doing research to fight cancer. And her efforts have proven successful – the 17-year-old was just awarded the Grand Prize in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology for her cancer cell-killing nanotech research.
Zhang, a student in Cupertino, California, designed an innovative system called “Design of Image-guided, Photo-thermal Controlled Drug Releasing Multifunctional Nanosystem for the Treatment of Cancer Stem Cells” (now that’s a mouthful). Despite its long name, the project got right to the point. Zhang explored the usage of the drug salinomycin as a vehicle to distribute a nanoparticle she created to cancerous tumors, effectively killing the cancer stem cells. Further, she improved detection through MRI and photoacoustics exams by including gold and iron oxide in the nanoparticle compound.
The ambitious teen focused on cancer stem cells for her research, since they are most resistant to treatment. Unphased by the tremendous challenge of the resilient cancer stem cells, she began researching in 2009 when she was just 15 years old. After 1,000 hours in the lab developing the nanoparticle, she succeeded in a method that not only attacks cancer cells effectively, but also allows for easy tracking and monitoring of the results within the body.
For her efforts, Zhang took home $100,000 along with the prestigious Siemens award. She plans to continue her studies in chemical engineering, biomedical engineering or physics, with the goal of being a research professor. One day, thanks to her young mind, her nanoparticle could be used to save countless lives.