Giovino, who lost an aunt to skin caner, studied drug resistance in melanoma treatments for her senior science thesis, which she completed as part of Kennedy’s Authentic Science Research Program. Much as bacteria can build up resistance to antibiotics when they are overprescribed, cancers can develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs.
Working at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering over the summers of 2011 and 2012, Giovino examined two melanoma drugs to identify treatments that would bypass the cancer’s resistance to chemotherapy. In Petri dishes, she created a line of melanoma cells that resisted treatment. Then she began looking at a variety of drug combinations that would override the resistance.
Barbara Franklin, a Kennedy chemistry teacher and Giovino’s ASR adviser, said that a key to success in the Science and Engineering Fair, at both the Long Island and international levels, is students’ ability to prove that their work is their own, that they have done what scientists call novel work. Clearly, Franklin said, Giovino met that criterion.
Additionally, Franklin said, presentation is key. Judges look at students’ ability to explain their research confidently and succinctly. Giovino said that she honed her speaking skills during weekly staff meetings at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, at which she was always the youngest participant. She listened to other scientists closely as they spoke, and then she had to stand at the front of the boardroom, surrounded by 15 of the world’s top cancer researchers, to explain her findings and field questions. No doubt, the experience helped prepare her for LISEF.
When Giovino recently presented her research paper before her peers at Kennedy, Franklin said, she stood out. “When I heard her speak, I wasn’t surprised” that she won at LISEF, Franklin said.
Barbi Frank, who teaches biology and also advises ASR students, said that Giovino’s maturity and determination helped to propel her to victory. At the same time, Frank noted, Giovino supported her fellow Kennedy researchers as they prepared their projects for competitions and celebrated their victories.