BioGENEius Award Alumni Update: Tejal U. Naik

By Tejal U. Naik, Participant, International BioGENEius Challenge

BioGENEius is the premier competition for high school students that recognizes outstanding research in biotechnology.

For me, this was the first time I was truly submersed into a real scientific field. This is ironic considering I was born to parents who are research scientists in the cardiovascular field. I was always surrounded by science and research, but it was not until I participated in the BioGENEius competition during my sophomore year in high school that I really started to comprehend the research going on around me. To meet a variety of high school students with diverse and cutting edge experience clued me in on different thought processes and showed me the difference a person can make armed with a few well planned experiments and a mind possessed of creativity and innovation.

In high school, I began a research project inspired by my aunt, who passed away from breast cancer. I was saddened by the extreme detrimental impact this disease had on her quality of life, and shocked to learn that even after being treated for the disease a decade earlier, it could still be fatal. This event and the effects it has left on my family motivated me to find a cure.

Starting with my school science fair, I would go on to compete in various international science fair competitions, including the International Science and Engineering Fair, with BioGENEius being my first competition. I would go on to compete in three consecutive international BioGENEius competitions throughout my high school career.

My project was focused on the discovery that expression of JAM-A, a cell adhesion molecule, inversely correlates with the metastatic ability of breast cancer cells. I also found that long-term growth factor treatment attenuates the invasion of breast cancer cells by augmenting JAM-A expression.

Through my project and BioGENEius, I soon began to foster a stronger bond for science and especially the field of biotechnology. I continued my thirst for knowledge and the will to make a positive impact in the world after high school.

In college, I dedicated time toward developing a siRNA delivery system that could have therapeutic value for patients with cancer. Although the trials in the laboratory bred patience and dedication in me, I soon realized it would take a long time to move novel cancer therapies from bench to bedside. Unfortunately, this timeline did not fit with my strong desire to make more of an immediate impact on society. This realization helped affirm my desire to become a physician, where I would be able to have a hand in assisting individuals with their ailments and still be an active part of research world.

Yet, I was still puzzled on how to achieve that perfect harmony between clinical work and bench side research. In order to understand what it would take for me to reach my goal, I took a position at the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. The Wyss Institute prides itself on scientific innovation through excelling at bringing bench side research to commercialization, in order to be used in clinical settings.

My current project is focused on the development of an energy-generating nanobiopolymer substrate. The project sets its sights on a renewable energy source that can be implemented while being more cost- and energy-efficient than currently utilized technologies. I had a riveting and enlightening experience while at the Wyss for I was able to understand how physicians and scientists were able to work cohesively to a common goal.

I will be attending medical school in the fall of 2012 with my mission to increase the quality of life for my patients but also to push the boundaries of the medical field to benefit people everywhere. This could not be possible without my experiences with the BioGENEius competition, which opened up countless windows of opportunities for my career path, which allowed me to pursue my passion in life. The perspective I attained gave me a solid foundation leading to success not just in the present but for my future as well.

Tejal U. Naik is currently a researcher at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. His current project is focused on the development of an energy-generating nanobiopolymer substrate. The project sets its sights on a renewable energy source that can be implemented while being more cost- and energy-efficient than currently utilized technologies.. Tejal received a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology and Genetics and a minor in Biochemical Engineering from the University of Delaware. He successfully defended a senior thesis on a surface-mediated siRNA drug delivery system while an undergraduate at the University of Delaware in the Chemical Engineering Department. He has had previous experience working as a paid intern at Agilent Technologies. While in high school, Tejal published two papers describing how the loss of the trans-membrane protein, JAM-A, leads to an increased metastatic ability for breast cancer cells. With this project, Tejal participated in three international BioGENEius competitions and two Intel International Science and Engineering Fair competitions, winning numerous awards. For leisure, Tejal practices breakdancing, Wing Chun kung fu, bass guitar, and is a very avid sports fan.

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