Cupertino teen wins $100,000 prize for potential cancer cure

Courtesy Siemens

Angela Zhang, of Cupertino, holds aloft the winner's $100,000 scholarship check after being named the winner of the 2011 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. Zhang, a senior at Monta Vista High School, designed an drug delivery system which would deliver the drug salinomycin to cancer stem cells, which she says are responsible for initiating and driving tumor growth. She hopes to major in chemical or biomedical engineering or physics and ultimately become a research professor.

A 17-year-old from Cupertino recently won a $100,000 grand prize for developing a possible cancer cure.

Remember those science fairs where top contenders included posterboard displays about frog life cycles or hoverboards made out of vacuum cleaners? Turns out high school science has come a long way since then — and so have high school scientists.

Angela Zhang, a 17-year-old senior at Cupertino's Monta Vista High School, just won $100,000 from the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology for inventing a possible cure for cancer.

The California teen took the grand prize for inventing what she dubbed the “Swiss army knife of cancer treatments,” a gold-iron oxide nanoparticle that can precisely deliver chemotherapy to cancer tumors but not the surrounding healthy tissue.

"She showed great creativity and initiative," said competition judge Tejal Desai in a statement. "Her work is an important step in developing new approaches to the therapeutic targeting of tumors via nanotechnology."

"This is a Cinderella moment for a science nerd like me," Zhang told the Mercury News on Monday. The senior had been working on her nanoparticle since she was 15.

Zhang said she's always had a "passionate curiosity" about the world, but that her research was pushed in part by her family. Her great-grandfather had liver cancer and her grandfather died of lung cancer when she was in seventh grade.

"I asked, 'Why does this happen? Why does cancer cause death? What are we doing to fix this and what can I do to help?'"

Zhang was also the only female finalist in the individual category. Other winners included Ziyuan Liu and Cassee Cain of Oak Ridge, Tenn., who used a hacked Xbox 360 Kinect sensor to analyze the walking patterns of people wearing prosthetics.

With contributions by Paige Osburn

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