Earlier last week, we had the privilege to speak with Chang Liu, a first-time Intel ISEF finalist from Beijing, about her project and her impressions of the US and the Fair.
The short Q&A is below the fold.
Q: First, could you tell me your name, where you're from, and how old you are?
A: My name is Chang Liu, I'm from Beijing, China, and I'm already 18 years old.
Q: How did you come to be here at ISEF today? What was your path?
A: When I was small I liked to watch TV like Nova and the Discovery Channel and so on, and later in my high school years, my school had sent me to a research institution which was very exciting because I worked together with the professors and their graduate students! In this way I saw more than when I was just a high school student. Because I love science, especially biology, I think this is a very good challenge and it has inspired me a lot. I think that schools, especially high schools and even primary schools, need to send more children to the higher universities and institutions to study more science.
Q: Alright. What was your project about?
A: My project is the study of the extension in vitro of hematopoietic stem cells. It's about cellular biology. Hematopoietic stem cells are kinds of stem cells that can cure lots of blood diseases, such as leukemia, but this kind of cell is quite limited, so a lot of patients cannot get treatment. In my project, I wanted to get more of these stem cells. So I created a new system that I can extend the cells with. For this, I wanted to try to mimic the microenvironment of bone marrow. I used three main methods. First, I used a three-dimensional culture system simulating microgravity. Second, I co-cultured hematopoietic stem cells with osteoblast cells, which are another kind of important cell in the bone marrow niche. And third, I added a special conditioning medium that contains lots of nutrients and growth factors that may be helpful for the growth of the cells. And then after these experiments I can extend the cells about twenty times!
Q: And what did you find?
A: I think the cells easily die and differentiate when they are cultured outside our human body. I think maybe they cannot adjust to new environments! So, I created a system very similar to the bone marrow niche. Within this environment, they will adjust so that they can grow very well!
Q: Has anyone you met here, a student or a judge, perhaps, given you any useful suggestions for your future research?
A: Well, one of the judges had asked me a great question, and this question I have never thought to think of before! It lit up in my brain, as if I were just rowing a boat in the night in one direction, but this professor lit up another light, which led me to another way, to a brighter place. He asked me if I had ever thought that osteoblast cells might not be necessary for the transplantation of the hematopoietic stem cells into humans.
Q: What do you think about the differences in stem cell research policies between the US and China?
A: Sorry, I have never really thought about it. But I think, when the world is developing and different minds will come into the world, I think stem cells will become very important and fully supported in the future.
Q: Why do you think stem cells are so important to the future?
A: Because stem cells are almost magical. They can differentiate into so many kinds of cells. For example, when your skin gets hurt, you use stem cells to regrow that skin. You can use these kinds of stem cells to create any kind of cell you want! This is very useful.
Q: And this is your first time in the US, and your first time at ISEF, right? What are your impressions so far?
A: I think the US is very great! There are so many different people from different subjects here, and everyone's project is so exciting. I can sort of see their minds. Just through their booths, I can see their minds. They are shining, like stars twinkling in the sky. Everyone's mind is very brilliant here, I think. I've made so many new friends... But I can't remember all their names right now! But we have exchanged our e-mails with each other. It is a great thing; I have never met so many foreigners before, and now I can make friends all over the world. And ISEF is great because we can all come together from around the world to broaden our horizons.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: I'd like to come back to ISEF, but I'm already 18. So, I'm thinking about going to university here in America, and now I'm preparing for it, and I think in my future I will continue on my work in biology, especially in stem cells.