NY Students Advance to Siemens Competition Finals with Discovery that Could Aid ALS Research

Margarida Azevedo, MSc avatar

by Margarida Azevedo, MSc |

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Four students from New York have been named national finalists in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology held at Carnegie Mellon University, after earning top spots in one of the two regional competitions that took place this month. The competition is hosted by the Siemens Foundation.

Of the four winners, three applied as a team and shared a $6,000 team scholarship for their project, which identified a protein that previously was not known to play a role in cell division. This protein could be key to understanding several diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Alzheimer’s disease.

With a project titled, “The Cilium and Centrosome Associated Protein CCDC11 is Required for Cytokinesis via Midbody Recruitment of the ESCRT-III Membrane Scission Complex,” Jillian Parker and Jiachen Lee, of Dix Hills, New York, along with Arooba Ahmed, of Melville, New York, found that when a protein called CCDC11 is decreased in a cell, the division of cells that leads to the production of new cells is not carried out properly.

While several proteins are known to be involved in successful cell division, this is the first time that CCDC11 has been shown to be involved in this process. The protein is also known to participate in early development to ensure that organs develop correctly in the body.

“This discovery can help better understand the complex defects that patients with mutations in the CCDC11 gene present in the clinic,” John Woolford, a competition judge and professor at Carnegie Mellon, said in a press release. “This could alert us to the fact that people who present with one disease or problem might have other seemingly unrelated problems. This could help us understand how different diseases stem from the same genetic mutation.”

Parker, Ahmed, and Lee were among 101 students selected to compete in regional competitions nationwide. They were selected from more than 1,860 projects submitted to the competition. Ken-Ichi Takemaru, of Stony Brook University, was the trio’s mentor.

Parker, Ahmed, and Lee won the team prize. The individual winner was Brian Huang, of Fresh Meadows, New York, who developed a theorem that offers insight into the formation of black holes.

The four regional winners will now head to the final phase of the Siemens Competition. They will present their work at the National Finals, taking place at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Dec. 4-5, 2017.

Each finalist will receive at least $25,000 in scholarship funds. In addition, $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded, including two top prizes of $100,000.

“It’s amazing to see the knowledge and determination students bring to the competition each year,” said David Etzwiler, chief executive officer of the Siemens Foundation. “These high school students are presenting top-notch, graduate-level research and they deserve recognition for their efforts to improve so many lives.”

The Siemens Competition is administered by Discovery Education, a professional learning community specialized in digital content and professional development. The competition was launched in 1999 by the Siemens Foundation to increase access to higher education for students with special aptitude in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).