Anyone who follows addiction science knows that this field of medicine is pretty much in its infancy. Luckily, there are young, very talented minds that may light the way to a better understanding of addiction — how to prevent it, how to treat it — in the years to come. Minds like that of Glenn Yu, who recently took first place and a $2500 prize in the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) Science Fair Award for Addiction Science.
Every year, more than 1,500 high school students reveal their independent research at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), a worldwide science competition and forum for high schoolers. As part of Intel ISEF, NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health, selects three winners to be awarded prize money and announces honorees at a special awards ceremony at the fair, at which more than 50 countries compete.
Over a year ago, Yu decided to study medicinal chemistry, a choice that would help him pave the way to winning this year’s first-place honors. The 18-year-old attends Hunter College High School, in New York City, and told Addiction.com that he was “pleasantly surprised to have some judges from NIDA come listen to my project.” This was Yu’s first time participating in Intel ISEF, which is sponsored by more than a dozen corporate, academic, government and science-focused entities.
Representing the New York City team at the event, Yu, exhibited his project, called “Naturalistic Painkillers: Design, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Novel Fatty Acid Binding Protein Inhibitors.” “I designed, synthesized and biologically evaluated in vitro a potentially very effective and novel pain reliever,” he explains. “The approach I took was to target a recently discovered class of proteins called fatty acid binding proteins, or FABPs, because these proteins are tissue-specific. There are 10 known different human FABPs and each is localized to a particular region of the body. Therefore, targeting FABPs would theoretically be a more effective therapeutic approach to pain management and relief because they are so specific and thereby minimize the potential for global side effects, which is common among pain medications on the market today.”
Yu says he first became interested in studying pain relief after two years of working in a “really fun biophysics laboratory.” The Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University matched Yu up with a new lab that enabled him to pursue his interest in addiction and pain relief further, and he relied heavily on mentors from the Institute of Chemical Biology & Drug Discovery, also at Stony Brook University, for guidance on his research. “Addiction is also a very prevalent issue and one of the only medical problems that doesn’t distinguish by age,” Yu notes. “It is just as prevalent a problem among teens as it is among adults, and this universal nature is what drew me to study addiction science.”
Even though Yu says he’s still uncertain about his major, he already knows where he’ll be studying: Stanford University. “I will try to finish my undergraduate degree in three years, but if I decide that that’s not a good idea, I will finish it in four and then take one more year to complete a master’s in whichever STEM [science, technology, engineering or medicine] field I choose to major in,” he adds.
Photo courtesy of Glenn Yu