For most high school seniors, the last year of high school is typically spent preparing for graduation, applying to colleges and scholarships and spending time with friends and family. However, Alex Rossi, a senior in the Center for Research, Engineering, Science and Technology (CREST) program at Paradise Valley High School, will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to present his research abstract on brain tumors to cancer scientists from around the world at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting from April 18th-22nd in Philadelphia.
Students who attend the CREST program have the option of studying one of the three specialized disciplines, including biotechnology, computer science or engineering.
Alex Rossi (far right) with the Barrow Neurological Institute laboratory team. (Photo courtesy of Paradise Valley Unified School District)
Students can also apply to participate in an internship program which allows them to work with renowned organizations and professionals.
Alex has been a student in the CREST program for the past fours years and has been interning at the Barrow Neurological Institute in the Neuro-Oncology Research Laboratory, headed by Dr. Adrienne Scheck, for two years.
“The CREST program has provided a core set of laboratory and research skills that helped to greatly reduce the learning curve once I got into the lab at Barrow,” Alex said . “Though I am still learning each and every day, the platform CREST provided me with was indispensable.”
Alex has been researching brain tumors and the ketogenic diet (KD) for more than two years. The experimentation to demonstrate that Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) sensitizes brain tumors was done over the course of about six months.
Alex worked on the experimentation mostly by himself.
Eric Woolf, a PH.D student in the lab, and Dr. Scheck often advised Alex on the specifics of experimental design and teaching him how to use specialized equipment.
He is currently working with a postgraduate student in the lab to repeat some of the experiments that was performed in human brain tumor cells.
Dr. Scheck encouraged Alex to submit the research to the AACR. Alex recently learned that his research abstract was accepted for presentation.
After re-reading the email 10 times, he shared the news with his teacher Mrs. Landry and Dr. Scheck. His parents have been incredibly supportive and were ecstatic to hear the news.
Alex attended the AACR annual meeting last year as an attendee. For Alex, it was a great experience to attend the conference as it gave him the opportunity to bounce ideas off of intelligent and knowledgeable people in the field.
“Regardless of which branch of CREST you decide to enter into, the biggest thing to remember about the program, and life in general, is that you get what you put in,” Alex said. “The research experience is mostly failure and troubleshooting. There were many exhausting nights and frustrating days. But that’s normal. If you stick to your passion and work hard, then you will be amazed at what you can accomplish. You shouldn’t be afraid of failure because an experience is an experience, regardless if it is good or bad.”
Alex will graduate in May and is still undecided where he will attend college and what he will major in. Alex credits his success to Dr. Scheck, the members of the lab who have worked with him and his teacher, Mrs. Landry, who was the one to ignite and foster his passion and curiosity for science and research.