High school duo wins $100K award for genetic project - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

High school duo wins $100K award for genetic project

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Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2005 10:27 am

Two students from the Scottsdale and Paradise Valley school districts will split a $100,000 scholarship awarded in one of the nation’s most prestigious science competitions.

Albert Shieh, 16, a Paradise Valley resident and junior at Chaparral High School, and Anne Lee, 17, a Phoenix resident and senior at Phoenix Country Day School in Paradise Valley, split the $100,000 scholarship. The prize, awarded on Monday during the Siemens Westinghouse Competition at New York University, was the top honor given to a team.

Their project helped improve computer technology that could help locate the genetic roots of some inherited diseases such as Alzheimer’s, autism and bipolar disorder.

The pair can use their scholarships at schools of their choice. Neither has made a college decision yet.

As part of their whirlwind tour of New York City, Lee and Shieh got to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange at the end of the business day.

"We just added more data by developing a new program," Shieh said of the computer software the pair designed. "We are giving researchers more data to work with. The program is being used already. We thought we had a chance at a prize, but the other projects in the team category were amazing, too."

Lee said the project was hard work, but she’s glad the pair — both graduates of a summer internship program at Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix — stuck with it.

"It was an exciting competition," Lee said. "Our project was hard and took time, but we just found technology that was available and hoped to do a project that would help researchers and people more."

It wasn’t that simple, according to Constance Atwell, the event’s chief judge. Atwell is also a consultant and former director for extramural research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Atwell said Lee and Shieh took their project to the next step, identifying a potential developmental disorder in children from a clinical presentation. The research led them to identify where to look for changes in gene structure.

Lee and Shieh developed their project under the mentorship of three doctors at the Phoenix institute. The students’ research was published in the Oct. 31 issue of the genetics journal BMC Genomics.

Lee and Shieh identified an opportunity to improve on a commercially developed software package designed to analyze high volume genetic data. They developed improved genetic analysis software — now in use — that enables more accurate and efficient identification of the genes underlying inherited disorders in humans.

"They were a team in the truest sense," Atwell said. "Each understood each other’s work perfectly."

AWARD WINNERS: Anne Lee, 17, a senior at Phoenix Country Day School in Paradise Valley, and Albert Shieh, 16, a junior at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, shared the $100,000 top prize in the team category at the Siemens Westinghouse Competition.

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