Age: 16Los Altos, CA
Project Title: Rethinking Therapeutic Targets in Alzheimer's Disease: A multipronged study linking the nAChR α7 and its role in the G-protein Signaling Pathway for AD
Anushka’s work identifies a novel neuronal receptor signaling pathway (pathway through which neurons send signals) which could be used to develop potential therapies for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Current research has not focused on the Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor subunit α7 (nAChR α7), a key player in neuronal communication, and its interactions with G-protein Signaling Pathway (GPSP) for AD. G-proteins are a family of proteins that are involved in transmitting signals within a cell. Anushka’s work suggests that the nAChR α7 and G-proteins are in the same pathway and that its inhibition drives Alzheimer’s symptoms, making it a pathway of interest for developing therapies for Alzheimer’s.
My name is Anushka Sanyal, and I am a rising senior from Homestead High School in Cupertino, California. My love for biology started fairly unexpectedly when, at eight years old, I discovered online mock surgery and medical diagnosis games. From then onwards, I have relentlessly thought about the puzzle that is our natural inner circuitry, permitting a miraculous range of thoughts and actions. Eventually, I became curious about certain unexplained phenomena and research provided an outlet for satiating my hunger for answers. Having my work recognized is a tremendous honor. I am truly humbled by it and very excited to be included in the 2020 Davidson Fellows among many inspiring, talented students.
In middle school, I participated in the Science Olympiads event Anatomy & Physiology when I came across one of the most prevalent neurotransmitters, acetylcholine. I dug deeper and found that the respective acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are used as an Alzheimer's Disease (AD) treatment. I had just then started volunteering at the memory support center of a local senior home. I had been working with the residents, afflicted with AD, helping them with a variety of activities and experienced firsthand how neurodegenerative disorders manifest in patients. Even after 3 years, I am amazed by how these once well-functioning individuals have suffered such devastating deterioration. These people are a small fraction of the 5.8 million Americans afflicted with AD, for which there is no known cure. Finding a breakthrough to move the Alzheimer’s research needle by even a small distance became my obsession. I started to investigate the linkages between acetylcholine, its receptors, and AD. I found that there is an indicated loss of the Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor ɑ7 by 17-50% in the brains of AD patients. However, it had not been well studied for AD. I also found that the nAChR α7 could spark the development of neurons while interacting with the G-Protein Signaling Pathway. My research shows that nAChR α7 and GPSP lie within the same pathway and should be tested further, particularly in humans. This approach has the potential to yield a novel therapeutic approach for AD patients.
Since I was only 13 at the time, no college or university would allow me to work at their wet lab. Hence, I found myself a unique home, called Schmahl Science Workshops (SSW), which allows students like me the opportunity to pursue their own scientific research. At SSW, I was paired with my mentor, Dr. Sonia Cuellar, a plant biologist with deep knowledge of molecular biology, genomics, and proteomics. She provided very insightful advice and answers to questions to further my project ideas, supported the development of my protocols, and helped supervise my work. I could not have completed this project without her support. Since SSW is a BSL-1 lab, I could only push my boundaries so much. Much of the sophisticated equipment that I needed, such as a T-Maze and training chamber, were luxuries I could not afford. Hence, I needed to teach myself the intricacies of working with breadboards and high voltages. Then, I continually reworked various minor aspects of my builds until I was sure that they were up to the same standard as those used in professional research laboratories. I am very grateful to SSW, as being able to conduct intensive and impactful biological research at my age was a privilege in itself.
Exposing a large amount of G-proteins in the areas of the brain, where the nAChR α7 is lost, may drive growth cone development. This could drive the creation of new neurons, which could contain multiple nAChRs α7 in their postsynaptic terminals. The overall increase in the number of functional nAChRs α7 could become enough to compensate for the reduction in the numbers of binding sites corresponding to the nAChR α7 in AD patients, finally enabling some of the abilities that are lost in AD patients.
In school, I have taken challenging courses to further pursue my interests in science, mathematics, and literature. Outside of school, I conducted the first three years of neurodegeneration research at SSW, as mentioned above. While presenting my research at science fairs, I was fortunate to connect with my current mentor, whom I am conducting research with at Stanford University. I am researching an RNA-related gene to ameliorate cell protein aggregation in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.
As an avid science fair participant, I have won 1st place and was a finalist at the 2019 and 2020 National JSHS, respectively. I am also a 2020 Regeneron ISEF finalist (unfortunately canceled due to COVID). In addition to research, I have been participating in Speech and Debate for seven years and am currently ranked 1st in California for my event. I am the president of my high school’s Speech and Debate club as well as GreenOps club for environmental service and sustainability. In my spare time, I tutor students struggling with various learning disorders and volunteer at a local senior home. For fun, I love drinking tea, baking desserts, and watching movies with my family. My career plans include pursuing a medical degree while continuing my research. As a physician, I wish to leverage my research knowledge and curiosity for the human body to directly improve patients’ lives.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself starting my residency on my way to become a doctor and continuing my neuroscience research.
If you could have dinner with the five most interesting people in the world, living or dead, who would they be?
Fe Del Mundo, Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama, Indra Nooyi, and Rosalind Franklin
In the News
TWO LOS ALTOS TEENS RECEIVE NATIONAL SCHOLARSHIPS FOR UNMATCHED ACHIEVEMENTS IN ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE RESEARCH
Jack Albright and Anushka Sanyal each to be awarded $10,000 as 2020 Davidson Fellow Scholarship Winners
Reno, Nev. – The Davidson Institute of Talent Development has announced the 2017 Davidson Fellows. Among the honorees is 18-year-old Carissa Chen. Chen won a $50,000 Davidson Fellows Scholarship for her project, Afterimages of Atrocity – Humanizing the Self and the State. She is one of only 20 students across the country to receive this honor.
“Having my work recognized is a tremendous honor,” said Anushka Sanyal, a rising senior at Homestead High School in Cupertino. “I am truly humbled by it and very excited to be included in the 2020 Davidson Fellows among many inspiring, talented students.”
Sanyal’s work identifies a novel neuronal receptor signaling pathway (pathway through which neurons send signals) which could be used to develop potential therapies for Alzheimer’s disease. Her research shows that nAChR α7 and GPSP lie within the same pathway and should be tested further due to the potential to yield a novel therapeutic approach for Alzheimer’s patients.
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The following disclosure is provided pursuant to Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 598.1305:The Davidson Institute for Talent Development is a Nevada non-profit corporation which is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt private operating foundation. We are dedicated to supporting the intellectual and social development of profoundly gifted students age 18 and under through a variety of programs. Contributions are tax deductible.
Profoundly gifted students are those who score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ and achievement tests. Read more about this population in this article.