17 Year old Girl Creates a Nanoparticle that Kills Cancer Stem Cells

Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the British futurist, once advised never to trust a scientist over thirty. Perhaps a further step can be taken and conversely assume to always trust a scientist under twenty—at least if that scientist happens to be named Angela Zhang.

Why Zhang? Simply because the 17-year-old Cupertino, California high school student may well have revealed the pathway for the ultimate cancer cure.

The teenage genius, who won the top prize honor and $100,000 for an individual entry from the Siemens Foundation’s yearly high school science competition, said she chose the cancer project because of family members that have died from the disease.

When Zhang was in seventh grade her grandfather succumbed to terminal lung cancer. Years earlier, her great grandfather died of liver cancer. Their deaths, she said, motivated her towards seeking a better treatment leading to an eventual cure.  

Her science project, “Design of Image-guided, Photo-thermal Controlled Drug Releasing Multifunctional Nanosystem for the Treatment of Cancer Stem Cells” uses nanoparticles she designed to zero-in on cancer stem cells and eradicate the disease at the source.

“Angela created a nanoparticle that is like a Swiss army knife of cancer treatment,” said competition judge Dr. Tejal Desai, Professor, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, University of California, San Francisco. “She showed great creativity and initiative in designing a nanoparticle system that can be triggered to release drugs at the site of the tumor while also allowing for non-invasive imaging. Her work is an important step in developing new approaches to the therapeutic targeting of tumors via nanotechnology.” [Siemens Press Release]

The approach is a vast improvement over current cancer treatments and innovatively employs the latest technology to destroy a very old killer. The nanoparticles carry a toxin directly to the cancer stem cells while leaving healthy cells unaffected.

Zhang explained a laser triggers the release of a powerful drug from the particles. The drug is injected into the malignant stem cells effectively stopping their ability to replicate, adapt and metastasize.

Although the basic biotechnology works, she believes refining the technique with existing technology may take several decades, although other medical researchers believe it may be accomplished sooner.

The 17-year-old told the media that the survival rate of cancer patients is surprisingly low. Since the root of cancer problems revolves around stem cells and replication, she thought it might be a good place to focus her attention on and so she built her project around that.

With such an accomplishment under her belt at just 17, what could this young woman accomplish before she turns 30? Perhaps she should turn her attention next towards death and taxes.


Siemens press release

17-year-old Cupertino student wins Siemens Competition and $100,000