By Kristina Houck
A local student wants to save lives, but needs the community’s help.
Eric Chen, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley, was selected as one of 15 finalists in Google’s international science fair. The 17-year-old is asking online voters to vote for his project, which is to develop an anti-flu medicine to fight a deadly infection from a new strain of the flu virus that could cause an epidemic.
“Current antiviral drugs are losing their effectiveness because resistant flu strains are emerging,” Chen said. “So there’s this need for new anti-flu medicine to hold back the pandemic wave while new vaccines are being developed.”
Inspired by the 2009 flu pandemic, Chen has worked on his project, “The Taming of the Flu,” at UC San Diego and Scripps Research Institute labs since May 2012. He uses computer modeling and simulation combined with biological experimentation to speed up the discovery process of new drug candidates, he said. He is working on finding compounds that inhibit a viral protein called the “endonuclease.”
“I’ve always liked doing research as a way to contribute to society,” Chen said. “I was looking for a new science fair project and I remembered vividly how H1N1 went viral in 2009. San Diego had some of the first cases in the U.S. Since then, I’ve been keeping a tab on influenza news. The more I read about it, the more I saw it as an urgent issue.”
The Google Science Fair had thousands of entrants from 120 countries. Judges first selected 90 regional finalists, and then 15 finalists were selected, with five from each age group, ages 13-14, 15-16 and 17-18.
All of the finalists will visit Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., to present their projects to a panel of international scientists for a final round of judging. The grand prize winner will receive a $50,000 scholarship, a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions and more.
As part of the competition, Chen is also in the running for the Voter’s Choice Award. The winner with the most votes receives a $10,000 grant to fund their project. Voting is open through Aug. 30.
“One thing I really like about research is that I get to feel like I’m really making a difference,” Chen said. “Even though I’m just in high school, I can say that. I’m doing work that will make the world a better place.”
To vote for Chen’s project, visit www.googlesciencefair.com/en/2013.