Age: 16San Diego, CA
Project Title: Use of a Novel Force Measurement Method to Quantify the Metastatic Potential of RasV12 Cells
Metastasis, or when cancer cells from one tumor move to form another, is a deadly process that causes about 90% of cancer deaths. My project investigates a cell’s stickiness to its surroundings and how it helps cancer cells move in metastasis, and my project uses the difference in stickiness between cancer cells and non-cancer cells to determine which may metastasize. I applied an inexpensive and efficient method of measuring this cell stickiness that can be implemented in hospitals as an accessible metastasis prediction tool, and therefore improving the quality of treatment for millions.
I’m Jessie Gan, a rising senior at the San Diego Jewish Academy in San Diego, CA. I’m extremely grateful to the Davidson Institute and truly honored to have been selected as a Davidson Fellow; it represents that my work is being recognized and given a platform, which can lead to it making a difference in the world, every scientists’ dream.
My project is about predicting metastasis of cancer cells in a novel way. Metastasis, or the migration of cancerous cells to other areas of the body, causes around 90% of all cancer deaths. My grandfather had been one of those cancer deaths. To further investigate, I chose to research this problem by applying physics to a biological problem. Currently many researchers are investigating genomic data and biomarkers to identify metastasis; however, these methods can be quite tedious and are challenged by the complex system of cancer cells. Although these methods are promising, they will likely take time to develop and must be trained meticulously. I took a different angle and questioned if a cancer cell’s adhesion to its surroundings would be different than that of a normal cell. From indications in scientific literature, metastasizing cells may be more “sticky” than regular cells, based on the fact that metastasizing cells have to move from one place to another and cling to their surroundings. By applying a new technique to quantify cell adhesion on this system, I was able to study an inexpensive, efficient, and accessible method for predicting metastasis in cells.
This opportunity was made possible to me by my great uncle, Professor Hew Choy Leong, who helped me reach out to his connections at the Mechanobiology Institute in Singapore. I would also like to acknowledge Professor Yan Jie who generously accepted me into his lab and gave me important feedback on my project. Some challenges I had were that this was one of my first wet lab experiences, and, therefore, I had to quickly pick up on tools that could only be learned through experience. I received immense support from my mentors at the lab, Doctors Yu Miao and Zhao Zhi Hai, who taught me procedures, supervised my experiment, and frequently gave recommendations when it came to experimental design. In addition, I’m grateful for my auntie Pei Lin who hosted me and my grandmother for helping me commute in Singapore, and my entire family’s continued support. I would like to thank my STEM teachers, Dr. Cheryl Eisen and Mr. Patrick Hagarman, for supporting my scientific endeavors and encouraging my independent research, as well as for commenting on my presentations for this work. I would also like to thank Dr. Christopher Lee for providing valuable feedback on presenting this project for my science fair.
This work has the potential to improve the treatment of millions of people who are diagnosed with cancer. The concept of the bead pipette assay would ideally be applied in a clinical setting, where it could serve as a versatile, inexpensive diagnostic for metastasis. Although there are currently other ways to measure cell adhesion, these methods are primarily geared for research work and can be expensive, require high sample sizes, and may be inaccessible to hospitals. The method I use in my research uses many cheap, widespread materials and doesn’t require accounting of large datasets that may be difficult to interpret with our current technologies. In addition, an alternative application of this method is to use it in cancer drug discovery, where it could be an experimental indicator to determine the efficacy of anti-metastasis drugs efficiently.
With respect to my formal education, I’ve attended private schools for my entire elementary and high school education. I’m a rising senior, so I’m still remaining at my current high school, and I hope to major in an interdisciplinary field like biochemistry, biophysics or computational biology in college. I am grateful to my elementary school, Country Montessori School, which first sparked my interest in science fair and independent research since third grade. I’d like to thank my current school, the San Diego Jewish Academy, which introduced me to the San Diego science fair and gave me the opportunity to present research in middle school, and greatly inspired me to continue my scientific endeavors into high school. In addition, my education has always had an emphasis on interdisciplinary study and connections between subjects, which I believe has shaped me as a person and allowed me to explore intersections in both scientific fields and between science and humanities. I believe I’ve had a truly unique experience in the humanities at my school, where we are constantly questioned “how are we to live?” and this frankly scientific inquiry on the purpose of life has given me the preparedness for higher education.
Expanding on my interests, first and foremost, I love scientific research and continue to perform investigations at the intersections of multiple disciplines. Currently I’m doing computational work on the mechanics of cell membranes, which was in part inspired by the involvement of forces at the barriers of cells in this work. I have also been engaged in researching Matrix-Metalloproteinase-15 (MMP-15), a potential lung cancer drug target. In addition, I volunteer in scientific outreach, and was inspired by my current mentor and their dedication to teaching; as the head of outreach on the San Diego science fair’s Student Leadership Board, I direct and coordinate science fair workshops, lead our student-mentorship programs, and promote research in the scientific community. In addition, I advocate for STEM at my school through the robotics team. Some other fun things I love are origami and acrylic painting! In the near future I’d like to someday be a physician scientist because I love interacting with both the public and the scientific community.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Probably doing cool research at a cool uni!
If you could have dinner with the five most interesting people in the world, living or dead, who would they be?
My AP Physics teacher and my four other AP Physics classmates. I really miss them and I haven't seen them in person since quarantine, and we're like a whole squad so yeah.
In the News
SAN DIEGO TEENS RECEIVE NATIONAL SCHOLARSHIPS FOR UNMATCHED ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENTS
Jessie Gan and Emily Tianshi each to be awarded $25,000 as 2020 Davidson Fellow Scholarship Winners
San Diego – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2020 scholarship winners. Among the honorees are Jessie Gan, 16, and Emily Tianshi, 16, both of San Diego. Only 20 students across the country are recognized as scholarship winners each year.
“I’m extremely grateful to the Davidson Institute and truly honored to have been selected as a Davidson Fellow,” said Gan, a rising senior at the San Diego Jewish Academy. “It represents that my work is being recognized and given a platform, which can lead to it making a difference in the world, every scientists’ dream.”
Metastasis, or the migration of cancerous cells to other areas of the body, is the cause of approximately 90 percent of all cancer deaths. By applying physics to a biological problem, Gan developed a technique to measure the difference in stickiness between cancer cells and non-cancer cell to determine which cells may metastasize.
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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.