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Science & Math students win regional honors in competition

Posted November 23, 2008
Updated November 24, 2008

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— Two students from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics won regional honors in a national competition for their project on genetics and chemotherapeutic drugs.

Seniors Sajith M. Wickramasekara and Andrew Y. Guo won the team award for one of six regions in the 2008 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. More than 1,200 projects were submitted in the premier national competition.

"These students have competed with some of the greatest young minds in our country and are now on an amazing journey to the finals for the most coveted high-school science prize in the nation," Siemens President James Whaley said.

Wickramasekara, of Raleigh, and Guo, of Cary, won a joint $6,000 scholarship and will compete in the national finals in New York City for scholarships up to $100,000.

To discover genes that cause diseases, the students used traditional genetics and cutting-edge computational modeling for the project, entitled "A Functional Genomic Framework for Chemotherapeutic Drug Improvement and Identification."

"Wickramasekara and Guo’s project was chosen because despite an enormous amount of research on cancer therapeutics, there is still a need to identify new genes to target for treatment,” said Dr. Kostas Konstantinidis, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Their approach has the potential to identify novel treatments that could lead the way to personalized medicine in the future."

Wickramasekara, the team leader, started brainstorming about a project after another team from NCSSM became regional finalists in 2006. They were assisted by Dr. Craig B. Bennett, an assistant professor at Duke University Medical Center, and Dr. Myra Haplin, dean of science at NCSSM.

"The team had exceptional communication and coordination in executing their project," Konstantinidis said.

Wickramasekara was the team leader and heard about the Siemens Competition in 2006 when seniors from his high school were selected as regional finalists.

He is captain of his school's Science Bowl and has participated in various science competitions, including the 2008 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and the North Carolina Junior Science Humanities Symposium.

Wickramasekara is an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America and dreams of one day owning his own biotech startup, specializing in personalized medicine. He founded the Student Journal of Research of NCSSM. He and Guo are co-editors of the publication.

Guo is a Science Olympiad winner and co-captain of the Quiz Bowl. He received First Place State Team in the Goldman Sachs National Economics Challenge. Guo is co-founder and editor of the Student Journal of Research at NCSSM.

It was the second year in a row that Triangle students won a regional team title in the Siemens Competition. In 2007, a team from Enloe High School in Raleigh won the prize that Wickramasekara and Guo took home this year.

Wickramasekara and Guo were the eighth team from NCSSM to make the make the contest's national finals, according to statistics posted on the Siemens Foundation's Web site.

NCSSM has been the nation's most successful school in the contest, producing the most regional and national finalists of any school – seven and 18, respectively – during in the past 10 years.

Enloe High School in Raleigh has produced one national finalist and five regional finalists.

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