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Student, 16, proposes killing cancer with gold ‘nanobullets’

BioPhotonics
Jul 2013
An experimental therapy that deploys gold nanoparticles in the fight against cancer earned a 16-year-old Alberta, Canada, high school student top national honors in the 2013 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC).

India-born Arjun Nair, an 11th-grade student at Webber Academy in Calgary, received the top prize of $5000 from a panel of eminent Canadian scientists assembled at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).


Arjun Nair. Courtesy of Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada.


Nair’s research project, mentored at the University of Calgary, advances a photothermal therapy (PTT) that involves injecting a patient with gold nanoparticles that accumulate in tumors, forming “nanobullets” that can be light-heated to kill cancer cells. PTT has shown promise but isn’t that effective because cancer cells fight back, producing heat-shock proteins to protect themselves.

Nair showed how an antibiotic (17-AAG) may overcome the cancer’s defenses and make the treatment more effective. Nair’s research, which a panel of expert judges led by Luis Barreto, MD, called “world-class master’s or PhD-level quality,” also won a special $1000 prize awarded to the project with the greatest commercial potential.

“Proof-of-concepts were developed and tested in order to demonstrate the viability of PTT,” Nair said. “Moreover, after analyzing the literature, a mathematical model was developed to evaluate a theoretical synergetic treatment.”

Eleven students from nine Canadian regions, all just 16 to 18 years old, took part in the national finals. They had placed first at regional SBCC competitions this spring.


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