Teen's research may improve diagnosis of prostate cancer

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Since ninth grade, Akansh N. Murthy has been developing a better way to diagnose prostate cancer, and he could be on the verge of a breakthrough.

Now a senior at Fox Chapel High School, Akansh, 17, of Aspinwall , has identified a biomarker in urine that elevates with prostate cancer.

Because he and researchers assisting him plan to publish their findings, he's yet to publicize the biomarker he's discovered. He also said more research is necessary to support early findings.

"I think it's a big field of research with a lot of possibilities," said Akansh, who has yet to choose a college to pursue a possible career in cancer research.

Akansh is a regional finalist in the Siemens Math, Science & Technology competition this weekend at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of six regional finals will be held next weekend at Carnegie Mellon University.

Nationwide, 30 teams and 30 individuals are competing for scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. Sponsored by the Siemens Foundation, the competition focuses solely on student research without regard to grades, achievement-test scores or outside activities. At each regional final this weekend and the next two weekends, five individuals and five teams will compete for the Dec. 5-8 finals at New York University. More information is available at www.siemens-foundation.org.

Akansh is one of 96 students and 60 projects from a pool of 1,205 projects chosen to compete in the regional finals.

"Kids are taking on things that plague mankind, and projects range from alternative fuels to cures for cancer," Jim Whaley, Siemens Foundation president said. "It's just incredible."

In 2007, the grand-prize winners did bone-growth research on zebra fish and developed a procedure to combat drug-resistant tuberculosis.

By rule, students can have advisers but must do their own original research. The College Board administers the competition for the Siemens Foundation, and experts in each topic picks the winners.

Akansh, using advisers from the University of Michigan, does his research each summer. Early focus on amino acids eventually broadened to metabolites in the urine.

"For almost three years, what I've been learning is that the cancer rates in America are rising," Akansh said. "The only feasible way to reduce or eliminate it is by diagnosing it at the early stage to reduce it's effect."

For now, doctors use the Prostate Specific Antigen as the clinical standard for early detection of the disease. Because PSA is not specific for prostate cancer, diagnosis must be confirmed with a biopsy.

Akansh studied urine metabolites from 14 men with elevated PSA levels. He used spectroscopy and spectrometry along with statistical analysis to quantify and identity metabolites that were elevated in the presence of prostate cancer.

His goal is to identify "highly reliable and practical biomarkers that can serve as distinguishing factors of clinical and diagnostic tools for prostate cancer," his prospectus states.

"Every single man in America has the threat of prostate cancer," Akansh said. "This opens the gateway to future research."


David Templeton can be reached at dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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