Last summer, senior Tanya Matthew developed an interest in chemical synthesis, the manipulation of chemical reactions to create new products, while working as an intern for a biotech company in Newark. Carrying on what she had learned in her internship, Tanya began reading more about chemical synthesis this year, specifically focusing on cancer research.
Tanya researched the complexities of why cancer cells survive and how they metastasize, or spread. Cancer cells have the ability to produce energy in a pathway different from normal cells, called glutamine-dependent reductive carboxylation. Tanya found that by synthesizing different enzyme inhibitors, she would be able to shut down that pathway and starve the tumor of energy, essentially killing it.
Because cancer research is a rapidly growing field that still has no definitive cure, Tanya believes that the process of targeting tumor cell energy pathways is important in finding a cure to cancer and will become more crucial as cancer research continues to develop.
From dreams of being an astronaut as a child, Tanya has always known she loved science, specifically the hands-on and collaborative aspects of it. During her internship, Tanya was also inspired by how the small company created a collaborative environment. This was the same collaboration that compelled her to take ASI.
Despite the fact that students complete individual projects spanning many different fields, the class allows students to work together. Each Friday, students present their project to the class, answering questions and teaching others about what they have learned.
“You always get good ideas as a result of people just asking questions,” ASI adviser Darren Dressen said. “There’s just bound to be something you didn’t think about.”
Tanya’s experiment, entitled “Synthesizing Inhibitors of Isocitrate Dehydrogenase to Inhibit Glutamine-Dependent Reductive Carboxylation in Tumors,” qualified for the California State Science Fair and won a first place award in the Physical Sciences and Engineering Category at the Synopsys Championship.
However, the road to the California State Science Fair was not an easy one. It began with months of reading scientific articles and learning about her project’s topic. To answer her essential question, Tanya sought help to learn new techniques to synthesize enzyme inhibitors from Dressen and Dr. Steven Richards, an organic chemist working in Berkeley.
“Seeing every little step you’re doing is making a little bit of progress is encouraging,” Tanya said. “It is a lot of trial and error when you’re doing things no one else has done before, that’s part of what makes it cool.”
By the end of the school year, Tanya aims to finish synthesizing her second inhibitor and analyze the results of both inhibitors to determine the more effective compound. For her future, Tanya hopes to major in molecular biology or biochemistry and work in pediatrics after attending medical school.