Why did you decide to take on this project?
We have both had relatives who have had cancer and died of cancer, and that made it especially meaningful to us. We also noticed that localized tumor cancer, particularly breast cancer, is one of the few diseases at an increasing rate in countries all over the world. Even in countries that are beginning to have other diseases under control, breast cancer remains a major threat. And (many patients) don’t have very many treatment methods available, they don’t have advanced therapy or even surgical options. So this quickly became a passion for us, we wanted to see how far we could take it.
We wanted something that could be adapted to all of the radiotherapy systems available all over the world, even countries that are otherwise really lacking in treatment techniques. We found that this treatment using tin microparticles can be applied anywhere with any other kind of radiation treatment technique and focus the radiation very effectively. Moreover, using this technique makes sure that more of the radiation goes into the tumor you’re trying to (kill) than into the cells surrounding it, so it’s more effective and also safer for the patient.
This is actually not invasive at all, you can just inject the tin particles into the tumor or if you have slightly more advanced technology, you can introduce it into the bloodstream and essentially put a molecular tag onto it so it makes its way into the tumor.
What have you gained from this experience as scientists and as students?
First of all, this has really been a door-opening experience in that it’s an affirmation of what we already knew we could do. We knew we could do science that was not only good science, but effective science, and that we could do it on our own. Getting the recognition for that is great, but we want to send the message to other people that they, too, can do the same kind of thing.
It’s an example of how far a simple idea can take you if you’re willing to dedicate a little effort to it. It’s not out of the question for who’s able to step back at any point and ask why something is doing what it’s doing, or maybe jot down an idea or two and do some research on it. All of those students that are excited about science really should have the opportunity to do this and are capable of doing it.
What kinds of challenges did you face while working on this project?
I think when we started off, there were several days when we looked at each other and said, there’s no way we’ll ever be able to do this. There were lots of issues with quantifying cell death and lots of other problems that we had to overcome, but in the end we were really happy that everything worked out as well as it did. There are plenty more obstacles to overcome and I’m nervous about that, but I’m also excited because that will offer a good chance for development.
What was it like to display your work at the Intel International Science Fair?
I think the word we both have is “inspiring.” It really was inspiring to see all these great minds and all these great ideas in one room. There were wide-ranging projects that were really astounding, like other cures for cancer, to the novelty ones, like pants that you can drum on that will hook up to speakers and that you can make a drum kit out of. There were all kinds of amazing ideas, and just being in their presence and talking with the people who came up with those ideas was a really amazing experience.
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