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UK Young Scientists of the Year 2014

Two Nuffield Research Placement students, sisters Ameeta and Aneeta Kumar, have been named UK Young Scientists of the Year 2014 after beating off competition from 4000 others and impressing the judges with their project on developing an early diagnostic tool for cancer.

Ameeta and Aneeta, who are pupils at Abbey School in Reading, carried out their project in the laboratory of Professor Ruth Muschel, under the direction of research scientists Dr Thomas Tapmeier and Ms Kamila Hussien, in the Department of Oncology, University of Oxford.

The project centred on the observation that an acidic environment around a tumour is one of the characteristics of many cancers and could potentially be exploited to detect and treat tumours. As part of the team in Oxford, the pair grew artificial tumours in culture dishes and tested a novel class of peptides called pHLIP, which are known to change shape within areas of acidity and insert into the membranes of any nearby cells[1]. On comparison of a functional pHLIP and a non-functional version (K-pHLIP) in the tumour cell system, the team found that pHLIP did indeed insert into the cell membrane of the cancer cell, while K-pHLIP did not.

Further experiments are underway and if successful, pHLIP may open up new avenues for detecting and treating cancer.

Sir Tim Hunt, the 2001 Nobel prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, who was on the judging panel was enormously impressed by the students' work.

Read more about Ameeta’s and Aneeta’s success on the National Science + Engineering Competition website.

This work was done in collaboration with Y. K. Reshetnyak and O. A. Andreev at University of Rhode Island, USA.

[1] Weerakkody, D., et al., Family of pH (low) insertion peptides for tumor targeting. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2013. 110(15): p. 5834-9.

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