Shree Bose On the Google Science Fair and More!

Shree Bose is a Harvard undergraduate who has made huge discoveries in the realm of drug resistance in cancer, winning her the top prize at the 2012 Google Science Fair!Shree Bose

We recently spoke with Shree about how she made her discovery, and why science is so close to her heart!

Shree came from a family deeply interested in science. Shree's dad is an engineer, and her brother has always been especially interested in the sciences.

"When I was little I actually really wanted to be a writer for a while," she said. "I went through a really angsty phase and I wrote a lot of poems."

Shree's interest in the sciences was ignited by her older brother, Pinaki, and his science projects.

"I saw him do it and saw it was something I could do," she said. "I ended up realizing how awesome science is."

Early on, Shree became interested in the human body, how it works, and the things that can go wrong. One of those things is cancer, which eventually became the topic of Shree's research.

"Cancer is when cells just start growing like crazy, and they don't stop," Shree explained in simple terms. "We need them to stop because they end up harming important cells."

Currently, there are many drugs on the market that are used in chemotherapy, which uses drugs to treat and kill cancer cells.

"Sometimes, these cancer cells develop some kind of mechanism that counteracts the drug and allows the cancer cells to survive through this treatment," she said.

Shree worked closely with one of those chemotherapy drugs, called cisplatin.

"It has really high rates of patients leaving the hospital cancer-free, then coming back two or three years later having the same sort of cancer," Shree said.

She wanted to find out the difference between the cells that cisplatin killed, and the cells that returned when the cancer came back.

To do this, she ran tests with AMP Kinase, an energy protein that sends a signal to cells that lets them know whether or not they have the energy to replicate.

"What I wanted to see is whether this protein is important in cancer," Shree said.

She treated sensitive cancer cells with the drug cisplatin, and they died. But when she blocked the AMP Kinase in similar cells with a certain chemical and treated them with the drug again, they didn't.

"We blocked the protein signal and the cells started dying," she said. "If you add this one extra chemical, you can complete chemotherapy and give them the same drug again the next time."

With this knowledge, Shree says that scientists can study the impact of AMP Kinase in resistant cells and target those cells in a more specific way.

"It was fun to work on," she said. "My favorite part was probably the fact that I'd have the results in the first few seconds. I would start to realize what the results meant and that was a really big moment."

Most importantly, new and more effective treatments could be put into effect with just one extra chemical, which is already on the market and approved for use in cancer.

"The main thing I took away from it is the fact that this metabolic pathway is important to cancer," she said. "Not only in how cancer becomes resistant, but it might be important in how cancer starts."

Shree told us that this discovery is a huge deal.

"When I first went into the lab I didn't have any targeted focus, except I knew I wanted to work with cancer," she said. "My grandfather passed away from it. I was really lucky to hit upon this field. The way cells process energy is extremely important in chemotherapy and learning how cancer operates, and it's something that hasn't been completely explored yet."

This research eventually took Shree all the way to the prestigious Google Science Fair.

"I still get chills whenever I talk about it!" she said.

Shree was one of 15 finalists from all over the world in the 2012 Google Science Fair. Each of the finalists had booths to exhibit their projects, but due to the complicated nature of Shree's project, she had little to display that could easily convey the nature of her project.

"I built this really terrible DNA molecule out of legos, and it got broken three times," she confessed. "At that point, I said that I wasn't winning, but that I was there to meet some really awesome people and have so much fun," she said. "That's what I was there for."

When she finally got her turn to speak with the judges, her enthusiasm and passion for her project were apparent.

"I went into judging really not thinking I would win," she said. "When they called my name there were so many emotions."

Shree said that at first she couldn't believe her name had been called.

"It was just crazy to be on that stage," she said. "Right afterward there was this whirlwind of interviews and talking to people and traveling to places. It was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life."

Now, Shree is a sophomore at Harvard. She was recently named one of the "22 Most Impressive Students at Harvard."

She didn't even know she was on the list until a friend sent her an article. She said her time at Harvard has been yet another crucial experience in her life.

"It's actually been incredible," she said. "I'm surrounded by people who inspire me, who amaze me, and who make me want to do more amazing things with my life everyday. I have a fabulous group of friends here. It's very challenging and it's a great place to learn and grow."

She also keeps herself so busy with extracurricular activities that her parents try to convince her to give some of them up.

"My parents say I'm up to too much," she said. "I have a tendency to overload myself."

For one, Shree is Design Chair for the Harvard Science Review, taking science articles written in simple terms and designing them into a magazine format.

"I really, really love it," she said. "I did design all through high school, and I'm still doing it for The Crimson, Harvard's newspaper."

She also researches at the Mostoslavsky Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, which sits across the river from the Harvard campus. There, she continues to work on research regarding metabolics in cancer and energy processing.

On top of all of that, she keeps up her rigorous Harvard coursework, and is on the board for a club that allows intermediate and high school students to come to Harvard to take classes taught by Harvard students.

Last year, she taught a course on molecular biology to 6th and 7th grade students.

"By the time they walked out they were answering AP Bio questions," she said. "It was great knowing that I did that. I helped them. It was really fun, and I really like that aspect of being able to reach out to kids who love something like I do."

Though all of these activities take up most of Shree's free time, she continues to do them because she is passionate about them. We hope to see Shree do even more amazing things as her research continues!

Stay tuned for more on Shree Bose, and her thoughts on women in science!

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