Junior places at global science competition

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Yarim poses in front of the ISED building in California.
Yarim poses in front of the ISEF building in California.

From May 12-15, junior Yarim Lee competed at the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles, California, where her project placed fourth in the Biochemistry category. Moreover, the American Chemical Society awarded her with a 2nd place award and a $3,000 prize for the  innovative use of chemistry in her research.

ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition in which over 1,700 high school students from over seventy countries gather to showcase their independent research for a total of five million dollars in awards.

Yarim’s project was titled “Development of a Therapeutic Drug for Alzheimer’s Disease: A Chemical Approach to Cease Amyloidosis.” She chose to focus on Alzheimer’s disease particularly because she didn’t feel Alzheimer’s was emphasized as much as other illnesses such as cancer. This project built on previous research on Alzheimer’s that she has done for two years.

About her decision, she stated, “Personally, I think Alzheimer’s is the most deadly disease. This disease is a form of dementia that strips its victims from memory, but memories make us human.”

“Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a peptide called beta amyloid. Many beta amyloids form in the brain and aggregate together,” explained Yarim. “I’ve done studies as to why these peptides come together.”

In her project, Yarim hypothesized through in vitro research  that the prime force allowing these beta amyloids to come together is a lipophilic interaction called “Pi-stacking.” She then designed and synthesized a drug candidate through a series of procedures by using “organic and solid phase synthesis.” Yarim designed her drug candidate to specifically come in between two of the Alzheimer-inducing beta amyloids. She conducted her project at York College with Dr. Adam Profit of the Biochemistry department.

“You can imagine my drug candidate as  a marble that can slip in between the stacked up books, making the whole system unstable and collapsing,” explained Yarim in simpler terms.

At the event, Yarim also spoke with representatives from the American Chemical Society, a national group of scientists encouraging inquiry in chemistry.

For future research, Yarim hopes to work on cell culture testing with Alzheimer’s-inflicted neurons.

Yarim participated in last year’s ISEF competition in Phoenix, Arizona along with Sahityasri Thapi of the THHS class of 2013, where she placed second in Biochemistry and became the youngest Harrisite to ever compete at ISEF. This year, Yarim was the only Harrisite chosen to be a part of team New York City. About this year’s competition, Yarim concluded, “I realized through this year’s ISEF that it’s not all about winning. The reason that I started research was to help humanity, and knowing this, I’ve already won. I’ve won the honor of being a scientist.”