DCAT Awards Scholarships To Student Scientists at the 2024 Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair 

The Drug, Chemical & Associated Technologies Association (DCAT) has awarded $35,000 in scholarship funding to student scientists of seven projects who participated in the Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair (Regeneron ISEF), the world’s largest international pre-college student science and engineering competition that took place in Los Angeles, California, from May 11-17, 2024.  

Owned and produced by the Society for Science, Regeneron ISEF provides a platform for the best and brightest young scientists (in 9th to 12th grades) to showcase their science, technology, engineering, or math research. The Society for Science has a network of more than 400 regional, state and country science fairs around the world, and this year, over 175,000 students competed in those fairs to earn the right to compete in Regeneron ISEF. In 2024, nearly 2,000 finalists from nearly 70 countries, regions, and territories connected with their peers and global STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) leaders at Regeneron ISEF to compete for more than $9 million in awards and scholarships.  

The DCAT Science & Scholarship Committee, a volunteer committee within DCAT, facilitated DCAT’s participation as a Special Awards Organization at Regeneron ISEF. DCAT’s participation enables the organization to invest in the bio/pharmaceutical industry’s future by supporting young scholars who represent the geographic regions and areas of study reflected in DCAT’s global membership. 

“The competition showcased numerous talented students, and selecting seven winning projects was challenging,” said Jason Bertola, Executive Director, Head of Commercial North America, Small Molecules, Lonza, and Chair of the DCAT Science & Scholarship Committee. “These future scientists have demonstrated remarkable potential and creativity, assuring us that we are in good hands with the next generation of scientific leaders.“ 

The DCAT Science & Scholarship Committee supports the needs of students and educators by providing them with assistance through a variety of projects, grants, and member-supported initiatives, which includes DCAT’s role as a Special Awards Organization at Regeneron ISEF. Since 2017,  DCAT has awarded more than $100,000 in scholarship funding to ISEF student scientists. The scholarships are funded via member support, including the upcoming DCAT Scholarship Golf Outing, being held June 24, 2024, at TPC Jasna Polana, in Princeton, New Jersey. Further information on how DCAT Member Companies can support this event may be found here.  

Winning projects 
“The students, at their very young age, have all showcased unmatched enthusiasm and dedication,” said Maha Mehanna, Ph.D., Vice President, Business Development & Portfolio XGen Pharmaceuticals DJB, a member of the DCAT Science & Scholarship Committee, and a member of the task force that evaluated student applications and selected the winners. “Often driven by personal adversity, they took initiatives, from cold emailing dozens of professors to putting in over one thousand hours of extra work, besides their daily school obligations, to work on their ideas. It was truly heartwarming seeing them passionately discuss their projects and bring to fruition their concepts”. 

The winning projects from the student scientists awarded scholarship funding from DCAT are outlined below.  

(From left to right): Siddhart Maruvada, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics; Antariksha Sharma, Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment; Carolina de Araujo Pereira da Silva, Instituto Federal de Educacao Ciencia e Tecnologia do Rio de Janeiro; Muhilan Balasubramanian, Ballard High School; Maha Mehanna, Ph.D., Vice President, Business Development & Portfolio, XGen Pharmaceuticals DJB and a member of the DCAT Science & Scholarship Committee; Yumi Tsukai, Tokushima Municipal High School; Sharmada Palakurti, W.B. Ray High School; and Jai Gupta &  Avi Gupta (two siblings), Seminole High School. 

Siddhart Maruvada, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, North Carolina, was recognized for his research on developing a small-molecule interleukin-6 (IL-6) inhibitor for treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a prevalent autoimmune condition that is characterized by an excess of inflammatory cytokines. His project focused on computationally designing, synthesizing, and testing novel small-molecule drugs that have the ability to inhibit the IL-6 cytokine-signaling cascade. 

Antariksha Sharma, Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, Fairfield, Iowa, evaluated the antibacterial properties of Allium Sativum (garlic) by observing its inhibitory properties against 10 different strains of gram-positive and negative bacteria as well as its strength when combined with various kinds of honey. Her results indicate that garlic and honey may be possible alternatives to antibiotics for certain respiratory bacterial infections, something of particular importance for those who are immuno-compromised, allergic, or have limited access to antibiotics.  

Carolina de Araujo Pereira da Silva, Instituto Federal de Educacao Ciencia e Tecnologia do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, examined tumor metallomics as a target in cancer treatment. Metals and their transporters influence cell behavior in cancer, and previous research demonstrated that manganese promotes malignancy. Her research demonstrates that tumor cells oscillate between manganese uptake and secretion, perpetuating a manganese -rich tumor microenvironment that promotes a complex and regulated network, an important finding for the basis of further research in cancer therapeutics.  

Muhilan Balasubramanian, Ballard High School, Louisville, Kentucky, evaluated novel enzyme formulation on biofilms. Biofilms can anchor on various surfaces, such as medical devices, surgical equipment, and teeth plaque, and treatment methods, such as antibiotics and sterilization, can be ineffective. Biofilms are rigid matrix structures consisting of various exopolymers. His research, which continued a previous project validating the potential of enzymes to degrade biofilms, used enzymes to hydrolyze the exopolymers and disrupt the biofilm structure.  

Yumi Tsukai, Tokushima Municipal High School, Tokushima, Japan, focused on the development of novel artemisinin derivatives and a simple method to evaluate their antimalarial activity. Artemisinin is an antimalarial agent, but due to the discovery of artemisinin-resistant parasites, there is a need for further studies. Her research showed measuring reactivities of artemisinin derivatives with iron (II) in micelles can be used as a simple screening method to evaluate their antimalarial activity. 

Sharmada Palakurti, W.B. Ray High School, Corpus Christi, Texas, evaluated small-molecule inhibitors of proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin Type 9 (PCSK9), which plays a major role in platelet aggregation and atherosclerotic plaque formation. Given the hypothesis that PCSK9 plays a key role in clot formation and increases atherosclerotic plaque vulnerability, her research examined if small-molecule-inhibitors of PCSK9 could be developed as new agents for prevention and treatment of stroke. 

Jai Gupta & Avi Gupta (two siblings), Seminole High School, Sanford, Florida, investigated 23 natural compounds for their drug-like properties for fighting antibiotic-resistant biofilms. Their research selected certain ligands to evaluate their molecular electrostatic properties and protein-ligand interactions. The research showed that the newly designed compounds shared drug-like properties and showed maximum interaction with the biofilm-forming protein, thus providing potential in eradicating biofilms and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.