Millburn High School senior Rachel Okrent is a semifinalist in this year’s Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. She is one of 300 semifinalists in this year’s competition that had an unprecedented 1,541 projects submitted.
Okrent’s project studies the effect of using a combination of two FDA-approved drugs to successfully combat one of the most common forms of lung cancer. The goal of this research was to identify the final mediator in the signaling pathway, which if targeted, could restore sensitivity to a molecule called erlotinib by disallowing downstream mutation. From this characterization, Trifluoperazine hydrochloride (TFP), an FDA-approved antipsychotic, presented itself as a viable treatment. After both experiments on cells and mice, it was determined that TFP was not only more effective than erlotinib, but the using the two agents together was better than either alone. These results suggest that the rational combination of two FDA approved drugs can be used to treat patients suffering from a high percentage of lung cancer.
Okrent has been working with mentor Goutham Narla, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Genetics and Genomic Sciences at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine whose laboratory focuses on the identification and characterization of the genes and pathways involved in cancer metastasis.
Okrent is a student of Dr. Paul Gilmore in the Millburn High School Science Research course, a three-year program that begins in the sophomore year, and is designed to offer students an opportunity to perform scientific research and participate in the community of science research and scholarship as part of their high school experience. After identifying a research topic, and obtaining a mentor at an outside university or research lab, students must write a 20-page scientific paper and enter their research into local, state and/or national competitions.
Dr. Gilmore explains, “Because this competition focuses on the “hard” sciences, and does not pull from as large a field as some of the other well-known science competitions, it is an impressive feat to make it to the semi-finalist round, especially in a year with a record number of entries.”