January 4, 2024

In the heart of San Diego, California, a junior at Del Norte High School named Jason Zhang has emerged as a rising star in the world of cancer research. Though initially not drawn to research conferences and competitions, Jason’s journey took an unexpected turn when he discovered the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), opening doors that would eventually lead him to the European Society for Medical Oncology in Spain and the International Forum for Research Excellence.

JSHS: The First Step into Science Competitions 

Jason’s journey into the world of research began with JSHS, where he had the opportunity to present his findings on his cancer research through oral presentations. The experience was transformative, introducing him to the competitive and exciting world of scientific convenings. It was here that Jason unveiled his groundbreaking research—a diagnostic model for cancer screening using microRNAs in the blood.

Motivated by a personal experience involving his mother’s health scare, Jason chose early cancer detection as the focus of his project. Witnessing the uncertainty surrounding a growth in his mother’s thyroid inspired him to delve into an area where current technology is lacking—early cancer detection.

Jason utilized a specific technology, the microRNA microarrays, to develop a diagnostic model using bioinformatic techniques. His model achieved impressive sensitivity and specificity levels, surpassing current technologies in the field, which typically hover around 60-70 percent. This breakthrough has the potential to significantly impact cancer mortality rates by detecting the disease at its earliest stages.

AEOP Travel Award: Achieving International Recognition

The culmination of Jason’s efforts led him to present at prestigious conferences such as the European Society for Medical Oncology and the International Forum for Research Excellence. At the latter, he not only presented a poster but also won first place in the High School Microbiology category. The AEOP Symposium Travel Award provided him the financial means to attend and network, creating opportunities for future endeavors.

Participating in these conferences not only boosted Jason’s professional growth but also fostered personal development. He learned to present his research effectively, improved his networking skills and fostered relationships with fellow participants.

Words of Advice for Fellow Researchers 

Reflecting on his journey, Jason advises aspiring researchers not to be discouraged by setbacks. He emphasizes the importance of perseverance and learning from experiences. For him, the setbacks he faced during his first competition at JSHS ultimately became stepping stones to success. He went into his first JSHS competition hoping he could win or at least receive recognition for his research. However, he did not, and he shared that it was extremely disappointing. Instead of getting discouraged, he leveraged this opportunity and worked with his research mentor to improve his presentation skills and researched how other scientists presented their findings. His hard work paid off; soon enough, he was invited to other competitions and was recognized for his research and hardwork. 

Jason also underscores the importance of finding a topic one is truly passionate about. He believes that passion not only fuels motivation but also becomes a powerful tool for sharing and inspiring what you care about with others.

A Glimpse into the Future

Looking ahead, Jason envisions a future where he can merge his passion for research with a career in the arts. He plans to continue his cancer research through a startup company that his mentor has established, and raise funding to commercialize the diagnostic model. Jason also has ambitions to pursue a dual path in the medical or biological field while nurturing his artistic talents.

Jason Zhang’s journey as a high school junior in San Diego to an award-winning researcher is a testament to the transformative power of passion, perseverance and the pursuit of knowledge. His story serves as an inspiration for both scientists and artists alike, proving that the intersection of passion and dedication can lead to remarkable achievements.

To learn more about JSHS, click here. To apply for the AEOP Symposium Travel Award, click here.

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