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Byram Hills Student Wins Award For Scientific Excellence

Helena Zhang
Helena Zhang Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Ringler

ARMONK, N.Y. -- Helena Zhang is the latest Byram Hills High School student to be honored for a science research project.

Zhang recently received the Acorda Scientific Excellence Award for her research paper and scientific work on alternative treatments for antibiotic-resistant MRSA. MRSA, a bacterium, is resistant to almost all antibiotics. Zhang chose to study whether endolysins, specific proteins that break bonds in bacterial cell walls, would be an effective alternative treatment for MRSA.

Zhang's study is the first to examine the endolysin PlyGRCS as a treatment possibility. Based on her study results, a plethora of future research can now be started to further understand PlyGRCS, enhance its activity, and eventually develop PlyGRCS into a preventive measure to antibiotics. Zhang said she was motivated to research MRSA treatments because she wanted to work on something that addressed the world’s most pressing needs.

“I wanted to give the sick and dying a voice,” Zhang said.

Zhang said she hopes to become a bioengineer.

"I want to make a positive impact in the pharmaceutical world," Zhang said.

Working on the project was fun and eye-opening, Zhang said.

"This was my first time doing research, and I was pretty intimidated, but the lab was very collaborative," Zhang said. "Everyone was extremely friendly and willing to help. The people in my mentor’s lab are definitely part of the reason why I had such a great experience and why I plan to pursue research in college and my career."

Working on the project was not easy, and Zhang found herself often working 12-hour days, even on weekends. She was  constantly tweaking her research and going through trial and error.

"I didn't get too upset when this happened because I learned so much not just from every successful thing that happened but also from every failure," Zhang said.

Zhang said she wants to continue looking at new drug treatments, including for HIV and malaria.

"They affect the poor, and if they are not given a voice, then other diseases that affect a majority of the poor will not be looked at," Zhang said.

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