Regeneron Semifinalist: Enoch Jiang

Enoch Jiang is one of the eight BCA semifinalists of the Regeneron Science Talent Search, formerly known as “Intel.” The Chronicle was lucky enough to catch up with her and find out more about her research, motivations, and reflections on the experience.

For more information on the  Regeneron Science Talent Search, and links to interviews with seven of our other semifinalists, read”Regeneron Science Talent Search: BCA Boasts 8 Semifinalists.


Could you give us a summary / short basic explanation of your research?

I’m trying to target cancer cells based on altered metabolisms. After reading my way through large databases on oncogenes ( which are genes that can cause cancer) I found that the MYC oncogene is really commonly expressed in breast cancer. Through some reading and experimentation, I discerned something interesting: MYC reprograms cancer cells to not rely on glucose (normally the most important nutrient for any cell) for metabolism. These cancer cells instead relied on glutamine, which is an amino acid.

Was the project personally important to you?

Unlike other people, I don’t have a very personal relationship with cancer – my direct relatives haven’t been affected by it. But I don’t think I really needed that sort of motivation. Cancer affects so many people across the world, and the idea of being able to make an impact in any capacity was highly motivating.

How did you get the idea for your project?

My original idea was to find and target an aspect of cancer cells divergent from normal cells. My first few ideas were duds because they were either too expensive or had already been heavily researched.

I ended up reading a general scientific review called the Hallmarks of Cancer. It’s a good overview of the major features of cancer and led me to ask a fundamental question: do some cancer cells have different metabolisms of nutrients than normal cells? The answer turned out to be yes – the cancer calls I eventually was looking at did have distinct metabolisms that were targetable.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while doing research?

When I first set out conducting research, it felt strange to know that I was the one calling all the shots. I had to make my own strategy and plan of action. It’s very different than being in a class where a teacher gives you a project and a rubric and guidelines.

What you do for your experiments and how you choose to go about is completely up to you. I had never done anything like that so it took some getting used to. But the end of the day, research also got really fun.

How did it feel to win the Regeneron award?

I personally wasn’t thinking much about the award – I wasn’t expecting it but it felt good to receive. It also helped me realize that I have a lot of unanswered questions on this project.

The award servesd as a reminder that my work doesn’t stop here. I am interested in continuing research in the future to get my project to a point where it’s applicable to actual treatment and medication.

What did you take away from the STS experience?

I realized it’s one thing to be doing experiments in a lab and another thing to explain what you did for competition. I had to learn how to get across in a detailed manner everything I did and found while also maintaining language that everyday individuals could easily understand.

All the technical things going on in my project were difficult to explain at first, but eventually I was able to get across everything in a way people actually understood. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from the competition experience  is the understanding that  being able to communicate science is almost as important as conducting the science itself.