World ORT rewards teenagers breakthrough cancer research


17 October 2008 World ORT rewards teenagers breakthrough cancer research An Israeli teenager whose research into how cells become cancerous has resulted in a potentially life-saving discovery has won the top prize in this years World ORT-Weizmann Institute Excellence Award. Dina Listov, 18, received a university scholarship worth $5,000 for her project, A Study of Polyamine Homeostasis in the Cell: The Influence of Oncogenes on Transcription of Antizyme Inhibitor. The adjudicating panel of experts declared Dinas to be an impressive work; it could make a scientific contribution to the study of cancer. In its citation the panel continued: The project presents a clear research question systematically studied by advanced methods of research The student showed deep understanding of complex scientific ideas in a very detailed work. We were very impressed by her planning, implementation and analysis of findings. Dina, pictured centre, who conducted her research at the Weizmann Institute of Science as part of her high school matriculation, admitted that her discovery of a pathway by which cancer develops could have life-saving ramifications. Theoretically, this could lead to a new cancer treatment, she said. But it was her love of biology that motivated her. Doing the work was pretty exciting. I didnt think of prizes or discovering anything, I was just caring about the work. I sat up for hours and hours at night doing it. Im happy that I found something but even if I hadnt it wouldve been great because I enjoyed the work. Cultivating such enthusiasm for science is a prime goal of the World ORT-Weizmann Institute Excellence Award project, the prizes for which are funded by the UK-based Kennedy Leigh Charitable Trust and World ORT. The finalists were only at high school and they have reached a level of which any undergraduate student would not be ashamed, said Professor Shimon Vega, the Head of the Weizmanns Chemical Physics Department and chairman of the World ORT Excellence Awards adjudicating committee. I was pleasantly surprised by the level these kids have reached, Professor Vega added. I hope they stay in science. Thats what we hope to do with the Excellence Award programme to stimulate them, to let them know that science is hard with lots of disappointments but that it worthwhile to persevere. Professor Vega said that the high standard of last years inaugural Excellence Award had been maintained although this years finalists tended toward the life sciences while last year there was a tendency towards mathematics, the winning work titled Algorithm Efficiency in the Complex Plane and the Analysis of a Dynamic Algorithm for Solving Equations. More than 70 high school students from across Israel submitted works for this years Excellence Award. As part of the selection process, all entrants were required to make a presentation of their work in English and five were selected to go through to the final. In addition to Professor Vega, the adjudicating committee included three members of the Weizmann Institute: Dr Anat Yarden, the Head of Biology in the Department of Science Teaching, Dr Lilach Gilboa of the Biological Regulation Department, and Dr Rinat Goren of the Physics of Complex Systems Department. Ambassador Moshe Raviv, who represents the Kennedy Leigh Charitable Trust in Israel, also sat on the panel and World ORT Research and Development Coordinator Dr Yakov Ronkin coordinated the committees work. Dina Listov, who has graduated from De-Shalit High School in Rehovot and is about to start her national service, expressed her gratitude to the Weizmann Institute whose laboratories she used, and World ORT and Kennedy Leigh for the prize. But she was particularly grateful to her mentor, Weizmann doctoral student Alona Keren-Paz, who helped her to choose that area of study and to explore it successfully. All the finalists had mentors but Professor Vega said that such support would have amounted for nothing without the hard work and talent of the teenagers themselves. Dinas study looked at the regulation of levels of polyamines in cells, polyamines being naturally occurring substances which are associated with cell growth and division. A likely sign of cancer is when cells have too many polyamines. Using cloning and other advanced techniques, Dina found that the more of a protein called Ras, which is associated with carcinogenesis, is present in a cell the higher the level of Antizyme Inhibitor, a DNA region which regulates the transcription of a gene. The results obtained in this work show a connection between Ras oncogenesis and polyamine regulation, said Dina, whose mother is a chemist at a nuclear research centre and whose father is a journalist. Monica Forman (pictured left), a student at the Gymnasia Realit in Rishon LeTzion, and Ravid Ben Abu (pictured second from the right), a student at the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem, were awarded joint second place with each receiving a $2,500 university scholarship. Monicas research project, Gene expression profiling of colorectal cancer patients using DNA microarray technology and computational analysis, was impressive and innovative said the judges and presented the possibility for further research in the study of cancer. Ravid examined the influence of inflammation on the regeneration process of those pancreatic cells which produce insulin, an area of study which could inform the development of a cure for diabetes. Fourth place went to Raz Balin (pictured right), a student at the Yitzhak Rabin High School in Mazkeret Batya, whose project, B cells, Dendritic cell and their interaction in the bone marrow, was unique, said the judges, in its suggestion of an as yet unpublished interaction between B cells and Dendritic cells in the brain. Fifth place went to Peter Teishev (pictured second from left), of the Gymnasia Realit in Rishon LeTzion, for his study, The Influence of the Transcription Factor Fezl on the Creation of Dopaminergic Neurons in the Hypothalamus of Zebra fish, an area of research which Peter argued could help to identify the root cause of conditions such as Parkinsons disease and schizophrenia. The Kennedy Leigh Charitable Trust was established by the late self-made millionaire Michael Kennedy Leigh in 1967, the son of Jewish immigrants to the United Kingdom. The trust, 75 per cent of whose annual allocations go to Israeli beneficiaries, supports a wide range of projects in education, medical research, the arts, coexistence, sport and other fields.