Mathematica Helps 17-Year-Old in "Junior Nobel Prize" Contest
Next week, 40 of America's future scientists will head to
Washington, D.C. to compete in the finals of the Intel Science Talent
a competition often referred to as the "junior Nobel Prize." They will
the results of their original research projects--a number of which involved
the use of Mathematica. Last year, as a senior at Stuyvesant High
then-17-year-old Varun Narendra was one of those 40 students.
Narendra used Mathematica to create a model that could help treat
disease, a genetic disorder. Patients with Gaucher's disease need enzyme
replacement therapy to properly metabolize fat cells. The therapy is
effective in most cases, but it is not a cure. Because the cost of the
lifelong treatments can exceed $300,000 per year, Narendra wanted
to find a way to determine each person's optimal enzyme dosage.
Narendra learned to use Mathematica during an after-school program
Stuyvesant High School students by Hunter College in New York City.
the class focused on Mathematica as a computational tool rather
programming language, Narendra says, "Just from the class, I was able to
a general enough idea of the language so that I could apply it to my
Gaucher's disease is caused by a mutation in the enzyme that stores fat
cells, or glycolipids. This mutation reduces the activity of the enzyme,
causing the glycolipids to accumulate in the patients' macrophage cells,
which are a type of white blood cell.
When the macrophage cells become engorged, they are called Gaucher cells.
Type 1 Gaucher's disease, which Narendra studied, Gaucher cells accumulate
in body tissues, particularly the spleen, where they cause painful
The spleen irritation can lead to further complications such as swelling
liver and joint tissues, compression of the lungs, bone abnormalities, and
anemia. Enzyme replacement therapy works by increasing the amount of
available to metabolize glycolipids. This helps prevent the glycolipids from
accumulating in and damaging body tissues.
Narendra analyzed 225 blood samples by studying enzyme activity levels. He
allowed the enzyme to react with patient blood serum tagged with
markers. When the enzyme reacts with the blood serum, the fluorescent
markers are separated from the cells. After allowing the reaction to
continue for a specific amount of time, Narendra used a fluorometer to
measure the amount of released fluorescence. This told
him how much of the enzyme was needed to complete the reaction.
By varying the amount of enzyme combined with each patient's blood sample,
with Mathematica Narendra was able to develop a mathematical
representation of every relevant
reaction occurring within the blood cells. He modeled the
reactions in the cells over time by coding loops in his program. Says
Narendra, "By studying how the glycolipid levels change over time with
varying treatment plans, you get an idea of what plan is most
Now attending Harvard University, Narendra is planning to major in
astronomy and astrophysics. He is seeking research opportunities on
saying "I hope to eventually get back into doing work with Gaucher, yet I
would also like to explore other interests."