For Roslyn High School senior Mahip Grewal, Thursday night’s prom at Jericho Terrace in Mineola was a celebration of the future. And she hopes her work now and in the future leads to future celebrations for many cancer patients.
Grewal worked for the past two summers and up until mid-May doing research on cell division in zebrafish, which led to her discovery of a naturally occurring process by which cells turn into tumors. Pinpointing this natural process could fuel future research on how to prevent it.
“Now we’re getting a better idea of how the cancer is actually developing, so the goal of new treatments would be to try to target these different pathways,” she said.
Grewal was in Phoenix May 7-14, along with 19 other Long Island students, at the International Science and Engineering Fair to present her research. She got to the competition by placing first in the cell biology category at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair in March.
She looked at the concept of senescence, a mechanism that takes away cells’ ability to divide, preventing tumors from forming. What she noticed in zebrafish with a human UHR1 gene — a gene common in liver cancer patients — was that some cells naturally escaped this protective mechanism and began to divide.
This discovery occurred just as she was wrapping up research for the summer before her senior year.
“Literally within one microscope image, it changed my whole perspective,” she said.
The week of the fair was also the week of Advanced Placement exams, and Grewal had six of them to make up. However, this was not a concern for her AP biology teacher, Vinny Kreyling.
“AP biology is difficult to take as a senior because you have to maintain your focus throughout the entire year, and she had absolutely no difficulty at all,” he said. “She’s one of the brightest students I can remember, and I’ve been at Roslyn for 13 years now.”
Grewal said she saw three grandparents lose battles to cancer, motivating her to continue work in epigenetics, a field that shows promise in treating the disease.
“That’s kind of a new moving field that I think more people are looking at in the context of cancer, so I would want to stick with that,” she said.
She said she will continue with this research and study other cancer systems at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.
“Honestly, it’s so surreal,” she said. “Because of the fact that I went to this fair and then was taking APs until just days ago, everything’s going by so fast, and it’s not really sunk in yet that school’s over.”