March 14, 2012 – People Doing Good Things – Nithin Tumma
Sometimes you just have to stop and recognize people who do great things, especially youth. This article comes from Detroit Free Press:
Michigan teen’s breast cancer research nets him $100,000 science 1st-place prize
WASHINGTON — Nithin Tumma, update your Facebook page.
Tonight, Nithin, a 17-year-old senior at Port Huron Northern High School, won the $100,000 first prize in the Intel Science Talent Search, the first Michigander to do so in the 70-year history of the competition.
And yes, you read the number correctly — $100,000.
Nithin won the prestigious award for what head judge Dr. Andy Yeager of the University of Arizona Cancer Center called “an absolutely elegant project” looking into molecular pathways, the proteins that signal cell behavior and their involvement in breastcancer. It eventually could lead to better targeted and less toxic therapies for cancer patients, Yeager said of the work Tumma did at Wayne State University, the University of Michigan and Stony Brook University in New York.
He explained it as sorting out the accelerator pedals from the brakes in cancer cells — and then trying to figure out how to let up on one and step down on the other. “I’ve been doing this for a number of years,” said Yeager, who has been head of the judging committee since 1999 and on the panel since 1986. “This ranks among the highest (projects) in terms of sophistication.”
(Think about what you were doing at 17?)
Nithin’s project was selected over those of 1,838 other high school seniors, including 39 finalists who were invited to Washington, D.C., this week. The Science Talent Search has been picking winners for projects in math and science since 1942. Alums of the competition have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes, two Fields Medals, three National Medals of Science and 11 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships.
“I got lucky I guess,” said Nithin, who thought when it got down to just two awards left tonight that he wouldn’t be taking a top prize. “I’ll take it.”
“College is expensive and $100,000 goes a long way toward that,” he added. “Sometimes good stuff happens.”
Nithin, who is looking at a career in computational biology (analyzing all the data researchers collect and modeling behavior and biological effects), was one of three Michiganders among the finalists this year. The others were Siddhartha Jena, 18, of Bloomfield Hills, and Philip He, 17, of Okemos. Siddhartha, who attends International Academy, worked on the effect of excess cholesterol on the ability of red blood cells to transport water, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Philip, who goes by Cody, attends Okemos High and concentrated on plant immunology.
These are students who have devoted much of their high school years to gaining access to researchers, mentors and labs to pursue their projects. Siddhartha said he started working modest jobs at the Wayne State University School of Medicine after freshman year; he did his work at Michigan State.
This afternoon, they were kicking around Washington, meeting with senators following a visit from President Barack Obama. As each wrestles with where to go off to college — Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc. — he is also looking forward to some down time with friends.
“We’re still high school students,” Siddhartha said.
Nithin, who lives in Ft. Gratiot Township, is first in his class of 332 students (natch), counts tennis playing and ping-pong among his hobbies and, on Facebook, lists LeBron James as the athlete he likes best. (Really?) The medical drama “House” is one of his favorite TV shows (might have guessed). Listening to him talk, Nithin sounds like most other 17-year-olds, recalling his first meeting with the man who would become his mentor, Raymond Novak, formerly of Wayne State’s Pharmacology Department (now at Shriver’s Hospitals for Children in Tampa).
Nithin said Novak didn’t really like the idea of bringing high school students into his lab, but Nithin said he had read all of Novak’s academic papers — this was after his freshman year of high school — and answered every question Novak had. “He was chill, he was like, ‘Sure, yeah, come in here and show me what you got this summer,’.” Nithin said.
Before you think, ‘Hey, that sounds like my kid,’ here’s part of the abstract for Nithin’s winning project:
“Transforming Growth Factor â (TGF-â) is an immunomodulatory cytokine that regulates cellular proliferation, migration, apoptosis, and plays a critical role in cancer.” (It gets tougher to follow from there.)
About that $100,000 — which is the biggest of $630,000 in awards being handed out this week — it’s supposed to go for college tuition. If (like Nithin) you’ve already gotten into MIT, Cal Tech and Stanford and are waiting for word from Harvard and Princeton before making a decision, it can be good to have that kind of cash lying around. On the other hand, if you’re as smart as these seniors, you already may have some scholarships and grants waiting.
Never fear, say the sponsors of the Intel Science Talent Search — if you don’t need the money for tuition, it’s all yours.
Contact TODD SPANGLER: 703-854-8947 or firstname.lastname@example.org