17-year old invents 'Swiss army knife of cancer drugs;' So...what'd you do senior year?

Wunderkinds are the rule in tech, but not this wunder and not this young

Success in the tech industry tends to come early. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the toddlers who started Google, that guy at Facebook who still looks 12…

If you have any insecurities at all about the value of your own academic career, the computer industry is not the place to work.

Even if you don't feel insecure about the accomplishments of your youth, this will change that:

This week a 17-year-old budding bioengineer named Angela Zhang won the $100,000 Grand Prize in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

She won for a project in which she developed a nanoparticle that helps anti-cancer medication find, penetrate and destroy cancer cells. It does this, presumably with the weight of the title of her project: “Design of Image-guided, Photo-thermal Controlled Drug Releasing Multifunctional Nanosystem for the Treatment of Cancer Stem Cells.”

One judge called her nanoparticle the "Swiss army knife of cancer treatment."

It's the kind of project that could make the career of a biochemist in the pharmaceuticals business.

Zhang is a 17-year-old senior at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif.

The nanoparticle is designed to be embedded in another anti-cancer drug – the antibiotic salinomycin, which delivers it to a tumor or clump of cancer cells.

Transporting a molecule of a new drug to a point from which it can attack cancer cells is a big chemistry problem, as is getting cancer cells not to reject the intruder once it arrives.

Enclosing a new anti-cancer molecule in a carrier that is chemically attracted to characteristics of the cancer cells gets the new molecule a ride to the battlefield without tipping off the enemy that it's coming.

Enclosing the new molecule in the antibiotic salinomycin, recently discovered to not only be drawn to cancer stem cells but, in some cases, to be able to kill them, gives the new molecule a ride to the target on a bus that explodes when it gets there.

Zhang's nanoparticle adds two new capabilities to any anti-cancer drug it mixes with:

The nanoparticle's size and shape help overcome the resistance of cancer stem cells to treatment.

Second, its makeup includes enough gold and iron-oxide to make MRI and photo-acoustic imaging of the real-time effect on cancer cells far more obvious.

Zhang spent more than 1,000 hours researching and developing the particle since 2009, which is impressive considering that at that point in our own lives, most of the rest of us were worried more about grades and prom than the shape of nanoparticles and rates of cancer remission.

The 13-year-old Siemens Competition was set up to reward scientific achievement in high school students.

Reading the accomplishments of past winners will cement the sense you just got that you wasted your whole high school career.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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