Published three scientific papers. Check. Applied for a patent. Check. Made CEO of high-tech start-up. Check. Graduate from high school? Well, not yet.
Demetri Maxim, 18, is skipping class this week while he’s in Washington, DC, as one of 40 U.S. teenagers who have been named finalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search, which recognizes rising stars who have done notable original research, who are competing for $1 million in scholarship awards, including three top prizes of $150,000 each.
This altar boy from St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church in Peabody, MA, has made some fairly impressive additions to his résumé in the past year:
• March 2015: Filed a patent application for a medical device that can be used to quantitatively detect biomarkers of various life threatening diseases in an at-home or clinical setting.
• May 2015: Won Best in Category — Cellular and Molecular Biology — at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
• August 2015; incorporated a biotechnology company called Nephrogen Inc. to commercialize various inventions from his research.
In case you’re thinking that Demetri is a little one-dimensional, don’t forget that he’s also the Chief Technology Officer for a start-up in Bethel, ME that allows users to search for the best burger in their area. The BRGR Scale, known formerly as the Brooks Burger Scale, is often advertised as the “instagram” for burgers.
In his free time, says Demetri, “I enjoy alpine ski racing, playing soccer, cycling, and playing the drums.”
He also has a black belt in Kenpo Karate.
It can be deeply humbling to read a biography like his, writes Emma Brown of the Washington Post, but it can also inspire hope: These young scientists are looking for answers to some of the world’s most intractable problems, and they’re making important progress.
Demetri Maxim, reports the Post, has created a method to bioengineer kidney tissue from a patient’s own cells, work that he hopes eventually will mean that scientists will be able to grow new kidneys for people suffering from chronic kidney disease, so they won’t have to wait for an organ donor or risk their bodies rejecting a donor’s kidney.
“I was essentially growing kidneys in a cell, that’s how my friends say it,” said Maxim, a senior at Gould Academy in Bethel, Maine.
The project is personal for him. He has polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition that leads to kidney failure. His grandfather and his great-grandfather also had the same condition, and his mother nearly died from it; a kidney transplant saved her life.
“I have the same disease that my mom does, so someday I’m going to need a kidney,” Maxim said.
Maxim said he had to teach himself a lot of basic research skills by reading papers and taking online tutorials. But last summer, after sending out countless emails to researchers, he found a Harvard professor who was willing to serve as a mentor and give him access to a real lab. The professor, it turned out, had years earlier diagnosed Maxim’s mother with polycystic kidney disease.
Maxim used skin cells to grow stem cells using a lab protocol developed by Nobel Prize-winning scientists. He used those stem cells to grow kidney cells. And then, to create tissue, he transferred those kidney cells onto a three-dimensional structure. That 3-D structure was composed of de-cellulized mouse tissue, or mouse tissue stripped of all its cells.
“And that’s never been done before,” Maxim said. “It’s one thing to have cells in a dish, but it’s a totally different story to have functional tissue.”
Maxim then tested the kidney cells by transplanting them into a live mouse with a functioning kidney. He found that the cells survived and became integrated into the mouse’s organ.
There’s still a lot of work to be done before human patients can receive organ transplants grown from their own cells. But Maxim plans to stick with it when he goes to college next year.
Meantime, he’s been helping his high school create a research program for other aspiring young scientists. He applied for grants and solicited donations that allowed him to build a lab at the school, and he’s been teaching freshmen and sophomores how to do basic lab work.
Maxim said it’s difficult to find other students his age who are interested not just in skiing and soccer and music, as he is, but also deeply interested in science.
He said he was shocked to be an Intel finalist, and is excited to spend time with the other 39 finalists. “You’re with your real friends for a week,” he said. “That’s what I’m most looking forward to.”
40 U.S. teenagers will be in Washington this weekend competing for $1 million in scholarship awards, including three top prizes of $150,000 each, the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search, which recognizes rising stars who have done notable original research. Read more at: washingtonpost.com