Pleasanton Weekly

News - May 7, 2010

Two teens competing in Intel's international science fair

Both exploring ways of fighting cancer as their projects

by Glenn Wohltmann

Two Pleasanton high school students are hoping their projects designed to help in the fight against cancer will bring them awards at this year's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).

In separate projects, Rahul Doraiswami, an 11th-grade student at Foothill High School, and Harikrishna Rallapalli, a 12th-grader at Amador Valley High, used high-tech bio-tech to win locally, giving them each a chance to compete on the national stage.

This is Rallapalli's third win at Amador Valley. He took home the top prize for a project called "Low-Cost Polarization Based GFP Viewer."

He came up with the idea as an intern last summer at Stanford University. His idea is to track the cells that eventually grow into a tumor.

"What you can do is try and trace which stem cell it comes from," Rallapalli explained. "The problem is there isn't a really successful tracking method."

Using a fluorescent gene that stays with cancer cells as they divide, Rallapalli found a way to view it with a polarized filter.

Doraiswami came up with a diagnostic tool for prostate cancer using a computer model, called an artificial neural network, that "learns." Over time, like a doctor learns to spot the symptoms of a disease, Doriswami's project can learn to diagnose prostate cancer.

"ANN is a type of computer software that simulates how our brain works," Doraiswami said. "I think this can be used in a clinical setting."

He said he was motivated to explore prostate cancer after his grandfather was diagnosed with it.

Both teens are looking forward to Intel ISEF 2010, which is set for May 9-14.

For Doraiswami, Intel ISEF is about "meeting people from around the world, (and) making new connections as well as seeing the different ideas that people have."

Rallapalli is glad the fair is being held locally.

"It's going to be a lot more fun. The San Jose fair is expected to be the biggest Intel ISEF in history," he said.

Both are hopeful but cautious. Doriswami, for example, was reluctant to talk too much about his chance for winning because he didn't want to jinx himself.

Rallapalli – competing for the third time – said he didn't even think his project would win the local competition.

Even if they don't take home the top prize, both say they're excited about the practical applications of their projects. Both are planning careers in biotechnology.

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