IndianAmerican Teenager Recognized for Research Into Treating Neurological Problems

One of the latest scientific breakthroughs to captivate the world comes by way of a 17-year-old student who hasn’t even finished high school, yet. Indrani Das, an IndianAmerican woman from New Jersey, is this year’s recipient of the top award in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search. Founded in 1942, the search is considered the oldest math and science competition in the nation and is open to all high school seniors in the United States. The Regeneron Science Talent Search, or STS for short, was sponsored by Westinghouse from its inception until 1998, when software company Intel took over sponsorship. Regeneron, a medical technology company, began sponsoring the competition last year. [See New Jersey Teen Wins Top Honors For Researching New Approach to Neurological Damage in Science, Math Competition, by Bhargavi Kulkarni, NewsIndia Times, 15.Mar.2017.]

Das won the first prize of $250,000 for her research on a potential way to treat the death of neurons due to a traumatic brain injury or a degenerative disease. Laboratory tests conducted by Das revealed a way to slow down the process of astrogliosis, which occurs when brain cells known as astrocytes react to brain trauma by growing and dividing. This results in an excessive level of a chemical compound known as glutamate, which in turn causes neuron death. In a statement to NewsIndia Times, Das explained the significance of her research. “It’s bad enough that when you receive a traumatic brain injury, a stroke, a neurodegenerative disease, there is already damage that is going on to a neuron’s brain cells. But in addition to that, there are supporting cells, specifically astrocytes, that contribute to that death and damage.”

Donna Leonardi, who is Das’s mentor and science teacher at Bergen County Academics, told the Bergen County Patch that Das “demonstrates a sincere passion for the scientific endeavor, and her integrity and work ethic are without compare. What is special is that she puts her heart into all she does, and coupled with her intellect, she will attain great heights.”

Das’s passion for science is especially encouraging for young women hoping to enter the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics fields, collectively known as STEM. Currently, only 6.7 percent of STEM degrees are awarded to women. A new ad campaign sponsored by tech giant Microsoft that premiered earlier this month is seeking to change the perception of STEM fields as a male dominated industry by encouraging young girls to explore their interests in science. [See Microsoft’s New ‘Make What’s Next’ Ad Shows Girls How to Pursue STEM Careers, by Lindsey Stein,, 7.Mar.2017]

The Regeneron STS is commonly referred to as a “junior Nobel Prize” competition, as twelve of the competition’s past winners have gone on to receive Nobels for their work. Perhaps Indrani Das will one day join their ranks, and further inspire young women everywhere, dreaming of career in STEM.


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