Teenage cancer researcher breaks barriers for young science enthusiasts

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Shree Bose, the Grand Prize winner of the inaugural Google Global Science Fair in the 17-to-18-year-old category, shared her research on ovarian cancer at the AT&T Education and Conference Center Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

Seventeen-year-old Shree Bose can trace her passion for science back to her first science fair in fourth grade, when she suggested parents dye their vegetables blue to make them more appetizing.

Her interest in science has expanded since then and now Bose has been tackling a new issue — drug resistance in ovarian cancer patients.

Bose took part in the monthly Austin Forum on Science, Technology & Society sponsored by the UT Texas Advanced Computing Center Tuesday night and talked about her research with Alakananda Basu, a molecular biology and immunology professor at the University of North Texas. Bose said there is a lack of mentors available to high school students interested in science. She urged professors to open up their labs and give younger students a chance.

Bose said the opportunity to work in Basu’s lab when she was only 15 years old helped her discover a passion for learning and research. She said many kids often lose focus of the things they are capable of as they go through middle and high school.

“High school and middle school students need mentors,” Bose said. “Where else are we going to learn? It’s where we all get started, and we were all little kids once.”

Bose won the grand prize at the Google Science Fair in 2011 for discovering a link between cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug used to treat ovarian cancer, and the AMPK protein.

One of the main problems with cisplatin is the development of tolerance in cancer cells to the drug over time that reduces its effect. While working in Basu’s lab, Bose found that by blocking this protein, a cancer cell was more likely to respond to cisplatin.

Basu said she accepted Bose into her lab partly because of her past experiences in mentoring and her belief that mentors can make an impact on young people.

She said engaging young individuals in science requires building a bridge between high schools and research facilities, hands-on experience and teamwork.

“High school science is very different than lab science,” Basu said. “You have to make a bridge between the students and the lab, then let them do it.”

Rosalia Arellano, Texas Advanced Computing Center external relations coordinator, said the center strives to get the word out on the importance of outreach efforts for students in grades K-12. She said many efforts, including the Austin Forum, speak to the need for diversity in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Julie Shannan, deputy director of the science outreach program, said the Girlstart educational program was proud a female won the Google Science Fair because it brings awareness to the potential that girls have in science fields.

“This opens the doors for girls to have mentors,” Shannan said. “For women in STEM careers to give back and engage girls in STEM.”

Bose has recently been accepted to Harvard University, but has not made a decision on where she wants to attend school. She said she plans to major in cellular and molecular biology and that her experience working in a research lab makes her feel more prepared for college. She said her advice to all students is to never give up.

“I’ve had so many points along the way where it would be so much easier to go another way, to not email 20 professors and get rejected by all of them,” Bose said. “But I chose to do this.”