Shree has recently been honoured as the Grand Prize winner of the Google Global Science Fair, an online science competition open to students aged 13 to 18 that Google organizes in partnership with CERN, LEGO, National Geographic and Scientific American. She has just graduated from high school and last year she was the finalist of Google’s competition for her project on the effect of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin on ovarian cancer cells. Shree visited CERN as part of her prize from the Google Science Fair and she had the chance to visit several experimental sites and meet with physicists and engineers. We met her during her visit to ALICE Control Room at Point 2 and asked her about the feeling of being a scientist from a young age, what motivated her in cancer research and her future plans…
A.M. Was that the first time that you were taking part in a Science Fair, because I suspect that there is a longer story?
S.B I have actually been doing Science Fairs for a really long time! I think that my first one was in the 2nd or 3rd grade when I decided that kids didn’t eat vegetables because they are green so I decided to make them blue! So that was actually my first science project although I must confess that eventually I killed the plant since I didn’t water it properly. However, I participated in my first science fair with that dead blue spinach tree. Since then I have individually completed and entered my own science fair projects in many different regional and state competitions. I would say that I went gradually better. When I went to High School, it was the summer after my freshmen year that my grandfather passed away from cancer. Then it was that I decided that I want to do cancer research. At this point I only got school-level biology which was not enough so I started e-mail Professors in labs and universities around my house and I was just asking them if I could go and do some research in their labs. I guess that at that point I sounded like a stupid fifteen year-old child and I was rejected by almost all of them. It was only Dr.Basu, the mentor that I found, who replied and suggested that I could go and meet her in the lab. Once we met I think she realized how passionate I was about biology and hence she decided to allow me into her lab. That was the point at which my medical research started.
Shree Bose in the ALICE Cavern
A.M. So how did you decide to participate to Google’s Science fair with the specific medical project?
S.B. Actually my first medical research project was on breast cancer. This is a really funny story. I was so excited with that project that I decided to compete at a state science fair where I had always won awards with previous projects. However, eventually I failed and I didn’t win any prize or distinction. I remember telling myself that I will never do science fairs again and here is a field I thought I was good at but apparently I am terrible and so on. It took me a year to realize that I was doing the fair not because I liked the competition and the actual fair but because I loved doing the research. That’s how I got back to Google’s science fair with the project on ovarian cancer and we had something big! I learned about the Science fair while I was doing a Google search and on the home page there was a message about it. Then I thought why not try it? After all I had already participated in so many fairs. The only thing that discouraged me was that we had to make a website and submit our projects and I had never done this before. However, I stand up and put my entire project online and sent off the link to the Google Science Fair.
A.M. Could you briefly describe for us your project on ovarian cancer?
S.B. I worked with drug resistance which appears in various cancers and more specifically I worked with a drug called cisplatin which is a really common chemotherapy drug used to treat ovarian cancer. The problem is that sometimes patients treated with this drug, years later come back with the same cancer which is now resistant to this drug. We were trying to figure out what causes patients to become resistant. In order to do that we took sensitive cells which respond to the drug and resistant cells which don’t. When the sensitive cells were treated with the drug a certain number of them died as expected since they were sensitive. At that point we thought that a protein, called AMP kinase must have a special role and we decided to study it closer. In order to do that we decided to block this protein in the sensitive cells and treat them again with the drug. We then observed that the cells stopped dying. We then repeated the above experiment with the resistant cells and we noticed that when treated with the drug they didn’t die as expected. But when we blocked this protein in these cells we observed that they started dying. So we figured out that there must be some sort of shift in what this protein does and how cancer cells become resistant. In addition we could treat patients who become resistant to the drug by giving them one more chemical. So it’s not only big for future treatment but it’s also big for future research because we know that this protein is important and it might be something we can target.
A.M. How would you describe your recent visit to CERN? What did you get from this experience?
S.B. You know it’s funny because in school I was never good at Physics and now I have been here for a few days and I think I have learnt so much about physics in the past few days as in my entire life. The work going on here is just incredible. I can’t believe that so many minds came together and were able to make something so wonderful. I think it’s far beyond my expectations. I came here expecting a physics experiment on a massive scale and I came here and found an entire community of people who are working together to advance human knowledge. I just find this idea of a huge group effort accomplishing the impossible really inspiring.
Shree Bose with her mother during her recent visit at Point 2.
A.M. Do you think that educational systems should put more emphasis on science? I know that there is a lively discussion going on in the U.S. and I am wondering what your opinion is.
S.B. You are right. I think that this is a global issue as more and more kids are turning away from science as they think of it as being too complicated or too specific and so they don’t even give it a chance. As students we were given the option of either going towards athletics and arts or science and research. But when kids face this choice they see on one hand sports being celebrated all over the place and athletes getting all the popularity and on the other hand they get science, with people not interested in finding out more about scientists and specific scientific fields and neither making any attempt to grasp the meaning of scientific discoveries. So I think that when kids see all the other fields being celebrated so much they decide to turn down science without giving it a. But the thing is that science is really amazing and is giving so many opportunities and on top of all it explains the world in such an elegant way.
So I think that kids are missing a great chance by not going into science. And I believe that how these subjects are taught plays a major role. When I was in school my chemistry and physics teacher knew the subjects they were teaching us but they never got the enthusiasm and passion that my biologist had. I think kids can feel this passion and it’s important to educate teachers that will convey more excitement about what they are teaching.
A.M. Please allow me one last more personal question: Are you sometimes afraid of getting in a scientific career from an early age?
S.E. I am terrified! I know that most people don’t expect this answer but I think that the field of biology is growing and there is a lot left to explore which is the case for most fields of science. There are so many things waiting to be discovered. What frightens me more is that I find everything so interesting. I am not really sure where I should focus in the future. So on one hand I am excited about all this but on the other I am also a little bit nervous.
Shree Bose and her family in the LHC tunnel.