Google Science Fair Winner Discusses Her Project

Robert Siegel speaks with Shree Bose, the winner of this year's Google Science Fair. Bose investigated why cancer cells become resistant to the chemotherapy drug Cisplatin. Through her research, she discovered a specific protein that makes cancer cells resistant to the drug.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Of course, the U.S. is also known for exporting another precious commodity: ideas. And all this week, we're exploring the ideas of young innovators - people who've made advances in the fields of science and technology before they are old enough to vote.

And today, a teenage cancer researcher, 17-year-old Shree Bose. This past summer, Shree Bose took home the grand prize at the inaugural Google Global Science Fair. Her project was researching ways to make a more effective cancer-killer. And she joins us now online from Fort Worth, Texas. Welcome to the program. Congratulations.

SHREE BOSE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And I'd like you to describe for us, in a nutshell, what you did about chemotherapy, and cells that become resistant to chemotherapy.

BOSE: In a nutshell, my project was about drug-resistance in ovarian cancer. And basically, what happens is that when patients are diagnosed with cancer, they go in for chemotherapy treatment, which is basically giving patients really high doses of chemicals to try and kill off cancer cells - which works great most of the time but sometimes, years after they've been declared cancer-free, patients come back with a recurrence of the same cancer that they had before.

And this time, they're resistant to the drug. You can't treat with the same treatment option, so you have to turn towards radiation therapy and different types of chemotherapy drugs. So basically, my project was trying to figure out exactly how these cancer cells were becoming resistant to one particular chemotherapy drug.

SIEGEL: And you actually identified a factor that could be at work here.

BOSE: Yes, we did. We found that one protein in the cell - AMP-kinase, which is an energy protein - shifts its function from sensitive cells to resistant cells. And it actually might be changing the cell along with it, to make those cells resistant. And if we can target that, we can actually treat resistant patients again, which is huge for chemotherapy and huge for future research.

SIEGEL: Now, how did you become interested in cancer research?

BOSE: After my freshman year, actually. My grandfather passed away due to cancer, and I just decided that I wanted to see what research was going on, what was out there. And I decided that I wanted to get involved in cancer research. So I started emailing all of these professors in my area, asking to work under their supervision.

And I got rejected by all except one. And then I went in to work with Dr. Basu at the UNT Health Science Center here in Fort Worth. And that's where my cancer-research story begins.

SIEGEL: So that was the beginning of your young career as a cancer researcher. But you were already involved in science fair projects for quite a while.

BOSE: I was. I've been involved in science fairs since I was in second grade. My first project was trying to turn spinach blue with food coloring, to make it more appetizing to little kids. And it just grew from there. And at 15, I was doing cancer research. So it was a nice step.

SIEGEL: Did you have cooperative little kids who would eat the blue spinach?

BOSE: Actually, I killed off the spinach plant before it actually grew. So - didn't work out so well for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: So your project has gotten a lot more sophisticated than that...

BOSE: Exactly.

SIEGEL: ...over the years. Shree, do you remember a time when you were very little, when something that your parents showed you or took you to, or told you about, inspired you to want to do science?

BOSE: I think my biggest influence in science has actually been my older brother, Pinaki Bose. He's 19; smartest kid I know. And just throughout my entire life, he's always been there to teach me things, and to show me how exciting and interesting science could be. So I owe a lot of my success to him, and I'm really lucky to have him in my life.

SIEGEL: And your plans for your own education - you're now senior in high school?

BOSE: Yes, senior in high school - last year. I'm hoping to go on to do an undergraduate degree in biology and hopefully, pursue premed. I was accepted early to Harvard, so that's one of my options. But I'm applying to a lot of really, really great schools, like Stanford and Johns Hopkins. And so hopefully, I'll end up somewhere great, and I'll be able to pursue future research and hopefully, go into the medical field.

SIEGEL: I suspect you'll do just fine.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: That's Shree Bose. She's the grand-prize winner of this year's Google Global Science Fair for her research into cancer treatment. She spoke to us from Fort Worth, Texas. Shree, thank you very much.

BOSE: Thank you for having me.

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