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Stanford summer research intern named finalist in national science competition

A Palo Alto high-school student who spent last summer working on a bioinformatics project in the Butte Lab here has been selected as a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search.

Andrew Liu joined the lab as an intern through the Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR) and spent eight weeks developing a method for extracting meaningful information from genomic data to help improve the understanding of organ rejection. He worked with research fellow Purvesh Khatri, PhD, on the project.

Liu is one of seven SIMR interns to have advanced to the semi-finals or finals of the Intel Science Talent Search since 2003. Three others also completed their projects in the Butte Lab.

Curious to know more about Liu and the work going on in the lab, I posed a few questions to Atul Butte, PhD:

High school students assisting in your lab obviously gain an unparalleled hands-on learning experience. How do the students benefit the lab?

We have a running list of 30 or 40 questions that we have the necessary data to answer. These serve as the basis for students' projects. When the students arrive they are positioned with a graduate student or a post-doc and then given a self-contained project involving one of these questions. Because they are quantitative thinkers with some computer programming experience and knowledge of Excel, they can hit the ground running after being given a program and some data.

For me it's a chance to show students that science is more than just dissecting frogs and, hopefully, inspire them to choose a career in science. I am still continually amazed at how far they are able to get with just a few weeks in my lab.

Can you tell me more about Liu's project and what has happened since he completed his internship?

Andrew developed a systems biology-based bioinformatics approach to model network of signaling pathways as a single network. He used this approach to identify novel mechanism of acute rejection in kidney transplant patients, which can be a target for novel therapeutics. He is still involved with the research and I anticipate him being a significant author in the paper.

Studies involving mice are currently in progress to validate the results from Andrew's analysis. It is highly likely this research will lead to novel agents for transplant rejection. It's hard to believe he’s just a 12th grader, but this is totally doable with today’s kids.

Student applications are currently being accepted for the Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program. The deadline is February 25.

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