Science research teacher Michelle Flannery tried to dissuade Christopher Alexander from studying potential cancer treatments since he was a freshman at Elmont Memorial High School, but Alexander kept persisting, and is now a semifinalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search for his work studying the effects of avian paramyxovirus serotype 4 on cancer cells.
The virus, he said, is able to eliminate cancer cells from the body while ignoring healthy cells by making the body’s immune system go after the tumors. It is in the same family as the Newcastle Disease virus, which researchers have previously studied as a potential cancer treatment, but, Alexander’s research showed, the avian paramyxovirus worked better than the Newcastle Disease in eliminating cancer cells.
“It turned out very well with the amount of time I had,” Alexander, a senior at Elmont Memorial High School, said of his project.
He started working on it in July 2019, and completed it in September 2020. Over the course of that year, Alexander made frequent trips to the laboratory at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan — even during the coronavirus pandemic — to study the effects of the avian virus on cancer cells. He spent his time monitoring how well the cancer cells were eliminated by the virus and examining what response the cells had to the virus, all while taking precautions handling the cancer cells and the virus.
In November, Alexander submitted his results to the Regeneron Science Talent Search, along with a research paper, essays and test scores, and on Jan. 7, he was named a semifinalist in one of the oldest and most prestigious pre-college science competitions in the country.
“He magically made it happen,” Flannery said, adding that she is “very proud of how he persisted.”
Alexander also said he was ecstatic when he heard the news and was “very honored” to be named a semifinalist, a title which comes with a $2,000 award for Alexander, as well as $2,000 for Elmont Memorial High School.
Forty of the 300 scholars will be named finalists on Jan. 21. Then, from March 10 - 17, the finalists will compete for more than $1.8 million in awards.