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Wafa Nomani '21 and Joe Winterlich '21 working to find a cure in the 2019-2020 ASPIRE program

Congratulations to nine students who have been accepted into the 2019-2020 Advanced Science Program for Independent Research and Engineering (ASPIRE) program, which is supported by the Advanced Mathematics and Science Study Program fund. This year's group includes Harry Amadeo '20 (second year in the program), Jacob Boyar '21, Ryan Heaton '21, Sam Hillenmeyer '21, Nadia Kucher '21, Alex Lim '21, Wafa Nomani '21, Olivia Sheridan '20, and Joseph Winterlich '21. The ASPIRE program encompasses a summer internship accompanied by the Advanced STEM Research course. Each year, a small group of students who clearly demonstrate an ability and interest in achieving true excellence within science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics are selected for independent study and competition preparation, and/or a laboratory research experience, based on the rigorous standards of the ASPIRE program.

This post highlights Wafa Nomani and Joe Winterlich: Wafa and Joe are both trying to develop new and improved treatments. Wafa is working to find a better way to fight cancer, and Joe is trying to identify new antibiotics that would be useful for treating multi-resistant bacteria and tuberculosis. 

Wafa Nomani: Wafa was chosen for the ASPIRE program based on her impressive presentation in the 2019 King School Science Fair. Her project on determining the synergistic effects of Metformin (for diabetes) and Simvastatin (for cholesterol) on the growth of the model organism C. elegans earned the attention of the professional judges and landed her a spot to present her work at Columbia University at their Undergraduate Research Symposium where she was one of the youngest participants among undergraduates from various prestigious institutions.

As art of the ASPIRE program, she completed her summer internship at the Grimm lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) under the supervision of Dr. Jan Grimm, M.D., Ph.D. Working alongside graduate students from Weill Cornell Medical College, Wafa's work focuses on developing novel nanoparticles to deliver chemotherapeutic agents to cancer cells. She is specifically trying to optimize the treatment regimen for pancreatic cancer given its complex tumor structure and high metastatic rates. Working in a professional setting allowed Wafa to get a sense of what it means to be a research scientist. Midway through the summer, Wafa remarked, "This really feels like a dream. I am so happy to be here and I never want to leave, I don't know how I will return to regular school after experiencing real science and research. " Wafa truly appreciated the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of medical innovation, developing new chemotherapies to target tumors and decrease adverse side effects for pancreatic cancer patients.

Wafa spent 40 hours per week for nine weeks of the summer at the Grimm lab and currently dedicates 4-5 hours per week during the school year to her lab work. Her project involves loading chemotherapeutic agents onto nanoparticles in order to mitigate issues associated with current chemotherapy administration methods, such as the toxic adverse effects on healthy cells. The goal is to target only the cancer cells, while avoiding toxicity on healthy cells; this is possible because the iron-oxide nanoparticles only release the chemotherapeutic agents in a low pH setting, which is conveniently found in the tumor microenvironment.

Wafa has finished Precalculus BC, Honors Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, and Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science A and is currently taking AP Chemistry and AP Calculus AB. She is also the leader of the STEM Club, the Math Team, Math Teachers' Assistant Club, and the Ambassadors' Club. In the future, Wafa aspires to be a physician or a research scientist. Wafa remarks that, "My goal is to apply my knowledge and experience to directly help people.'' She adds that, "if there is a problem, there is a solution; therefore, for every disease, there is a cure. This is what drives me to never give up even when things don't go according to plan in research."

Outside of school, Wafa enjoys spending time with her family, eating food, and learning new languages. She is currently learning Turkish and Persian.

Joe Winterlich: Joe is working with research associate Alexandre Gouzy, Ph.D., under the direction of Sabine Ehrt, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, in the Belfer Research Building in New York City. The Ehrt laboratory primarily focuses on the development of a cure/antibiotic for Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which has, over time, become increasingly resistant to currently used multi-drug treatments.

Joe's internship and research project includes experimentation with a nonpathogenic model bacterium, Escherichia coli, to study the mechanism of action of the human antimicrobial peptide (AMP) LL-37, which is part of the innate immune system. He is also working with the cathelicidin found in mice, mCRAMP, which has demonstrated resemblance to LL-37 but provides the ability to perform tests with mice rather than humans. Additionally, he is analyzing the bactericidal and bacteriostatic effects of antibiotics as well as potential synergistic benefits between AMPs and antibiotics. Joe comments, "Even though I lack previous experience in such sophisticated research, I feel comfortable working on my project and interacting with the people in my lab. My colleagues, especially Alex Gouzy, have been instrumental and supportive in helping me progress my project. I am excited to continue my work in the lab throughout the school year and next summer. The skills I have acquired from my experience, ranging from commuting to teamwork with colleagues, will undoubtedly aid me in my future endeavors, regardless of the field of work I pursue. I encourage young students to take the plunge into the vast field of scientific exploration."

Joe will present his work at various science fairs, such as the Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair and the King Science Fair. As a sophomore, Joe completed Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science A, and as a junior, he is currently taking AP Chemistry, Advanced Seminar (AS) English, and AP U.S. History. He also competes for the school varsity soccer and squash teams.

The King Fund supports STEM opportunities like these! Please give generously to support these and other distinctive offerings for students at King. The ASPIRE program is also supported, in partnership with the King Fund, by the Advanced Mathematics and Science Study Program (AMSSP) Endowed Fund. Established in 2018 by Margharet, Frank, Bea '15 and William '17 Nash, the AMSSP Fund supports select students with demonstrated ability and interest in achieving true excellence within science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics in global competition preparation, and/or laboratory research experiences. Congratulations to the entire group!