The Port Jefferson School District is proud to announce that Earl L. Vandermeulen High School senior Kent Ueno has been named a semifinalist in the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search competition. Kent, whose project focuses on the design and synthesis of tumor-targeting drug conjugates for imaging studies, is one of 300 semifinalists nationwide, 50 of whom are from Long Island.
Kent’s journey to success began with the Stony Brook University 2013 Simons Summer Research Program, in which he participated for six weeks. The program, offered to high school students between their junior and senior years, provides participants with the opportunity to engage in hands-on research in science, math or engineering. Students work with faculty mentors at a research university and learn about laboratory techniques and tools while becoming part of active research teams.
“The district could nominate a maximum of three students for the Simons Research Program,” said Earl L. Vandermeulen High School Principal Dr. Matthew Murphy. “With his outstanding academics and potential, Kent was a clear choice.”
Shortly after his acceptance into the program, Kent met Stony Brook University Professor Dr. Iwao Ojima and began weeks of reading scientific articles, taking notes, performing background research and completing safety courses. Throughout this time, Kent also shadowed Stony Brook University graduate student Tao Wang who acted as a mentor, helping Kent become familiar with the laboratory setting to prepare him for hands-on involvement in experiments during the final few weeks of the program.
“My involvement with the project focused on the distribution and localization of biotin-bearing drug conjugates, which have not yet been defined,” said Kent. “Therefore, the aim of this research was to design and develop novel tumor-targeting drug conjugates with an imaging arm to track the distribution and localization of the conjugates.” Together, the team designed two novel tumor-targeting drug conjugates bearing biotin as the tumor-targeting moiety, a second-generation taxoid, SB-T-1214, as a highly potent anticancer drug, and two different imaging arms for PET and SPECT scans.
Kent submitted his summer’s work to the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search, a program of the Society for Science & the Public. Sponsored by the Intel Corporation, it is the nation’s most prestigious science research competition for high school seniors. Submissions are reviewed by three or more Ph.D. scientists, mathematicians or engineers in the subject area of the entry, with heavy importance placed on the research report. Judges also look for students who exhibit exceptional research skills, innovative thinking and a commitment to academics and the community.
“The Simons program and the Intel competition have both strengthened my interest in the field,” said Kent. “My participation in the Advanced Placement chemistry and biology courses at Earl L. Vandermeulen have provided me with a crucial foundation needed for this type of research.”
Kent also credits his success to the support he has received from his science teacher Michel Krivosta and Principal Dr. Matthew Murphy, both of whom assisted Kent in his application and acceptance into both initiatives. As a semifinalist, Kent will be awarded $1,000 with an additional $1,000 going to Earl L. Vandermeulen High School to support its STEM education program.
“This whole experience has been a tremendous learning process that has had a very large impact on my life,” said Kent. “It is so fulfilling to be able to apply what I have learned to something that may one day help people with cancer.”
Kent’s scientific aspirations extend beyond the Intel program, as he hopes to continue participating in research programs throughout his time in college. While still awaiting his college acceptance letters, Kent already knows that he would like to study neurology and nuclear physics, both of which have applications in cancer research.
On Jan. 22, Intel will name the 40 finalists who will be advancing to the competition in Washington, D.C. this March.