2022 Teens Dream – Elimination of Cancer Deaths
My biggest mission in life is to find a cure for glioblastoma, the brain cancer that took away my grandma’s life under my witness. The worst thing about this experience is that I can’t do anything to help at that moment.
Imagining cancer as “the invisible bad guy” and wanting to defeat him when video calling grandma in her last week, I decided to analyze my opponent, leading me to a realization: even after centuries of technological advancements, we still can’t defeat an enemy as old as cancer, so instead, we must learn to befriend it.
I was reminded of the common cold, a disease without an official cure, that humans still tolerate despite the annual 36,000 people dying from it. 300 flu-causing rhinoviruses produce the “seemingly same” cold that actually differs from patient to patient, similar to how cancer is unique microscopically for every patient, but laypeople think of all cancer as one disease.
Seeing the parallel, an impulse immediately crosses my mind: what if we turn cancer into the “new common cold?”
Though manufacturing CAR-T cells for injection can train our body to tolerate cancer, similar to vaccines for the flu, it’s too expensive and time-consuming. This is because doctors have to analyze the patients’ cancer cells’ DNA and design personalized T-cells accordingly. So 100 patients would require 100 different productions of 100 different CAR-T cells. Therefore, I have been attempting to design specialized Universal CAR-T cells, able to regulate the extent of cancer growth in almost any patient. The benefit of not having to recreate unique CAR-T for every patient saves lots of time and money.
To reduce the costs, I plan to collect all the known CAR-T cells out there and analyze them to find key commonalities between all of them. This way, I could try to spot a protein or DNA segment that is found in all of the effective CAR-T cells. Then, I plan to use this valuable piece of protein or DNA to make universal CAR-T cells. Since I suspect that cancer is too heterogenetic, I am planning to create 3 different universal CAR-T cells. So that in the case when 1 does not work, there are still 2 other universal CAR-T cells. (This would require me to find 3 different proteins/ DNA trends across all effective CAR-T cells) To rephrase my goal, no matter what type of cancer the patient has, 1 of the 3 universal CAR-T cells I developed will be able to treat it.
The normal process is 1) diagnosing the patient using a CTC chip, 2) analyzing their cancer cells’ DNA, and 3) manufacturing personalized CAR-T cells. My project aims to replace the current step 3 with “figuring which combo of the 3 universal CAR-T cells is the most effective for this particular patient.” This way, we just have to figure out which 1 out of 7 possibilities works best instead of which 1 out of infinite possibilities. After that, we mass-produce these 3 universal CAR-T cells so that CAR-T Therapy becomes a ready-to-go-off-the-shelf type of treatment, which makes it much more affordable and quick. If I accomplish this, I can’t even fathom how happy I would be and what’s next to come.
Aiming to reduce patient deaths due to cancer, which is the most common cause for premature mortality, this project deeply relates to SDG #3 Good Health and Well-Being. People’s health will be tremendously supported through Universal CAR-T Therapy as they will not have to endure the painful symptoms and conditions that cancer brings. I decided to address SDG #3 because, in my opinion, health is essential to all the other SDGs because health is the most critical aspect of anybody’s life. The inevitable truth is that without health, the presence of anything else does not matter. Supplementally, the crucial idea of making universal CAR-T cells cheaper and more accessible to everyone no matter how much money they make also overlaps closely with SDG #10 Reduced Inequalities. Inequalities in access to quality disease treatments will be minimized between the poor and the rich. In my vision, universal health coverage will be significant to achieving the development goals of good health and I’m honored to take a part in this fight for positive change.