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16-Year-Old Discovers Potential Treatment For Cystic Fibrosis 236

Posted by Soulskill
from the early-start dept.
Bob the Super Hamste writes "According to a story at LiveScience, a 16-year-old Canadian 11th grade student has discovered a possible treatment for cystic fibrosis. The treatment is a combination of two drugs which, in a computer simulation on the Canadian SCINET supercomputing network, did not interfere with each other while interacting with the defective protein responsible for the disorder. He has also tested the drug combination on living cells with results that 'exceeded his expectations.'"
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16-Year-Old Discovers Potential Treatment For Cystic Fibrosis

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    • by Spritzer (950539) *
      Nah. Some kid who tested 6 different denture adhesives in Coke will win because the judges actually understand WTF he did. At least that's how it worked at science fairs when I was in school.
    • From the article:
      "Now Zhang and a trio of Montreal students who took second place for their technique for making sorbet without gelatin move on to compete against U.S. and Australian teams at the International BioGENEius Challenge in Washington, D.C., June 27."

      Man, the second place team is looking pretty pathetic now...

      • Oh come now, their project was first rate. They scraped a cow hide to get a gelatin protein which they then placed in ice cream to get smaller than usual crystals. They have no idea how it works but the ice cream is smoother which will of course means greater consumption of frozen desert products. This in turn increases the incident of obesity and secondary health problems such as diabetes, coronary artery disease etc.. Naturally they will come out ahead of Zhang since Cystic Fibrosis is a backwater dis
    • by Deadplant (212273)

      This *was* in fact part of a science fair of sorts.
      I happened to see him presenting to the judges at the NRC here in Ottawa.

      His presentation was one of several very impressive science projects.

      It was the "Sanofi/Aventis Biotech Challenge", an annual event that calls up science projects from across the country and culminates in a trip to Ottawa and presentations to a panel of judges.

      Go Canadian science-interested youth! woot!

    • by icebike (68054)

      My money is on this being fake.

      16 year olds don't have access to super computers nor a clue about how to find one.
      Nor do they know what drugs do which things, (street drugs excepted of course).

      The relationship with the "mentor" company, Sanofi-Aventis apparently suggests there is
      some angle being played here by the mentor company, and I'm willing to bet it has
      something to do with patents.

      The story doesn't pass the sniff test.

  • He has also tested the drug combination on living cells with results that 'exceeded his expectations.'

    This may or may not be impressive depending on what his expectations were. Hopefully they were higher than "causes massive trauma to healthy tissue," where "causes significant trauma to healthy tissue" would exceed expectations.

    • by Beardydog (716221) on Friday May 13, 2011 @02:09PM (#36120504)
      Notes:
      11:45 am - Upon administration, injection site immediately burst into flames. Combustion of patients blood followed, with progressive explosive rupturing of all blood vessels in a pattern emanating from injection site. End-stage release of parasitic alien spores ( from eyeballs ) noted in earlier formulations has been reduced to a degree exceeding expectations. Recommend further human trials to determine ( presence of? ) risk factors for blood combustion.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      I couldn't help but notice that he used a super computer as a part of his project. Call me old fashioned, but I really don't like this use of technology to avoid actually getting your hands dirty. It just strikes me as throwing money at a problem whereas in the past the actual displays were a lot more interesting, as they'd actually be able to show more than just print outs and diagrams.

      That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if there was parental involvement, that's always been a buzz kill, especially if

      • You may want to re-read the article. The kid worked pretty hard to find a lab that allow him in to do the work he wanted to do, and has done some preliminary testing on cells. I wish that the article was longer and told more about him, but it sure doesn't seem as though he's relying on mommy and daddy to help him build a volcano.
        • He emailed every researcher he could find until one agreed to let him in the lab so he could learn; this isn't some idea he dreamed up on his own. If you happen to live near a major medical center, there's almost always one of those, though finding them is not often easy.

          He's got tenacity, though.
      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        Call me old fashioned, but I really don't like this use of technology to avoid actually getting your hands dirty.

        Yeah. People with their computers these days. You should have to create your own molds, to create your own types, to use with your hand-built printing press.

      • Part of the project requirements was that these students were to conduct their research with the assistance of a mentor. In Zhang's case his mentor was his sponsor, a researcher at the lab. Had she been the one to do the work and make the discovery I'm confident she'd be inclined to take the credit and collect the cash.
  • by mckorr (1274964) on Friday May 13, 2011 @02:04PM (#36120450) Homepage
    as Big Pharm sues him for using their drugs in a manner not properly prescribed. This will effectively lock him down while they rebrand the drugs, package them, and patent the cure for their profit.
    • by hjf (703092)

      does that work in Canada too?

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        does that work in Canada too?

        We buy the same drugs, from the same companies, and usually once the USFDA approves it ... Canada just rubber stamps it for use.

        So, yeah. Pretty much.

        • by Guspaz (556486)

          Except those same drugs from the same companies cost far less and still produce huge profits for the pharma companies. Fancy that.

          • by deKernel (65640)

            That is because those drug purchases are subsidized by the government via taxes collected. The drug companies don't charge less because the purchasing agent is Canadian.

            • by gordo3000 (785698)

              yes they do. it's well proven that drug prices in the US are several time more expensive than other countries. I know for one particular example (as my friend worked at the implant company) the Japanese govt remitted 10% what they received for a sale in the US from our insurance companies (and Medicare). I've seen margins between 50-75% less on various drugs.

            • That is because those drug purchases are subsidized by the government via taxes collected.

              Wrong - it is because the federal government, in combination of the provincial governments, do a collective bargin with the drug companies so that all of Canada gets one price for a drug. This works out very well because the federal government controls the laws on patents and damages and can threaten greedy companies with changing the law to allow canadian companies to made copies of their drugs. Of course this would come at a large political price but at least they have a large enough stick to threaten th

          • Except those same drugs from the same companies cost far less and still produce huge profits for the pharma companies. Fancy that.

            The produce "huge profits" because those who are in non-subsidized countries (ie, the US), actually pay for it

        • Not true. Most drugs that're approved in Canada are also approved in the US, but there's several drugs that are approved in the US that are not available in Canada (including a few that've been pulled from the shelves for being dangerous in the US, which were never approved in Canada specifically because of those dangers), and similarly some drugs are available years earlier in Canada than the US. One of the drugs I'm taking right now is on that list... it's been available in Canada for almost a decade but

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            Yes, hence my ingenious usage of the word usually ... which allows me to express a subset of all, while still being most -- but nowhere near just a few, or even almost none. Also, not to be confused with the very vague "some of the time".

            Because I'm sneaky like that.

      • by mckorr (1274964)
        Dunno, but I'm sure they'll try. Large US corporations are not known for playing by the rules.
    • by devleopard (317515) on Friday May 13, 2011 @02:15PM (#36120600) Homepage

      Maybe, but not necessarily. CF isn't a huge profit center like heart disease medications or even HIV. Even though CF is the most common chronic genetic condition in the US, the numbers just aren't there. Most of the major CF meds (Pulmozyme, Creon, Tobi, Cayston, etc) is given away by the pharmas when the patient can't afford. While it may not be true for other conditions, when it comes to CF the pharmas ensure that those who need their meds get them. The emphasis for profit in CF just isn't there.

      I should know - I have Cystic Fibrosis, and despite periods of no insurance, I've never done without. (Yes, I'm in the United States.)

    • by bunratty (545641)
      What will prevent him from selling the drugs the preclinical and clinical trials needed to get approval from the FDA. He needs to show that the drugs are a safe and effective treatment for cystic fibrosis in humans. That process costs many millions of dollars. That's why companies are allowed to get a patent on a drug. If they couldn't, they wouldn't be able to recoup the costs of developing the drug, because a generic drug maker could easily undercut them and profit. That's why we have patents -- to promot
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        That's why we have patents -- to promote innovation and sharing of knowledge.

        And yet ... you can get sued for an upgrade [slashdot.org] button.

        The way patents are used now ... they do anything but promote innovation. They're mostly used to stifle competition, and seek to extort licensing fees for something obvious.

        They can also patent genes that people are born with. I'm afraid I no longer believe that patents serve the purpose they were intended to.

      • by superwiz (655733)
        He didn't create a new drug. He tested a combination of two drugs which seem to have already been approved (since both of them are in scinet). Combinations don't need separate approval.
        • However, new uses for known substances can be patent-worthy in themselves. It's called second indication. Hope he filed the application before going public...
          • by mattack2 (1165421)

            But doctors can already approve drugs for another use (off-label use) if they're already approved for one use.

            • True - no contradiction there. You just gotta file the patent before any doctor gets the idea for the off-label use. Standard novelty thing.
    • The pharmaceutical industry does not care if the drugs are being used in accordance with the FDA indications or not. They simply cannot advertise the drugs as being usable for any purpose except its official FDA indications. They want to sell more drugs and physicians using drugs "off-label" (not in accordance with the official FDA indications) sells more drugs, so they'd actually hope the kid finds a new use for their drugs. The government is the one that would get the kid in trouble if he is violating DEA
  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Friday May 13, 2011 @02:05PM (#36120466) Homepage Journal
    16 years old and the kid is doing drug trials? Back when I was in school we had to share Bunsen burners because there wasn't enough to go around.
    • by Ecuador (740021) on Friday May 13, 2011 @02:18PM (#36120634) Homepage

      While we did not have drug trials at school, just outside our school there was a little park where you could sometimes find syringes from whatever drug research activities were going on overnight.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Yea I was thinking the same thing when I heard a kid going to the Intel science fair saying, "I have been doing research in applied Physics for the last five years." Freak at 12 I had to get the principle's permission to launch a model rocket at school! Man things seem to be getting better but it makes me feel old.

    • It's important to note that this project was neither independent driven by the student nor was it through the student's high school - he was working as a student in a larger, well established lab. To provide some prospective, in biology it's very common for students (high school or undergraduate) to come in a work in a lab for short periods of time (particularly during the summer). We typically give them introductory projects and they're very heavily mentored (honestly, they typically slow down research m
  • by devleopard (317515) on Friday May 13, 2011 @02:10PM (#36120516) Homepage

    As a 34 year old dealing with the health issues and the ridiculous costs that let me breathe, digest my food, and not be knocked on my butt by blood sugar spikes, I'm excited by this. Goes to show that sometimes we just need some fresh thought at a new problem - the traditional, mega-millions research methods may not be the answer. (similar to Space-X :: NASA)

    • Lets just hope the live trials go well. It showed promise from the simulation and on live cells. Hopefully it isn't disruptive to other systems in your body.
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Well, the drugs interact on their intended targets without interacting with each other. Given that both are safe on their own, the odds of them causing problems together in a more complicated system are lower than it otherwise might be.

    • by pz (113803) on Friday May 13, 2011 @04:08PM (#36121744) Journal

      As a 34 year old dealing with the health issues and the ridiculous costs that let me breathe, digest my food, and not be knocked on my butt by blood sugar spikes, I'm excited by this. Goes to show that sometimes we just need some fresh thought at a new problem - the traditional, mega-millions research methods may not be the answer. (similar to Space-X :: NASA)

      Uhm, this kid -- talented though he may be -- was doing a summer project in a regular old lab (run by Dr. Christine Bear, at the Hospital for Sick Children's Research Institute, according to the article) that was, according to their web site, funded by Canadian and US governments and private foundations. More importantly, it would appear to be the very essence of incremental research to think that one might try combining two effective drugs together to see if the combination works better. That's not what I would call a ground-breaking, radical new idea; combination therapy is so common that we have a nifty term for it (that is, "combination therapy"). This is traditional, and effective, research.

      I've mentored a few of projects like these in my lab, and, when I was younger, participated in a couple myself. Sometimes the students are really smart and do a lot of independent work, and sometimes they are spoon fed the entire way. But, again in my experience, all of the major ideas are entirely provided to them. High school students really don't have enough experience to understand what the big questions are; that's the role of a lab head. Kudos to this kid, for sure, but saying that it's a new fresh perspective, or some non-traditional methodology, is probably off the mark.

  • The team that came second invented a better way to make sorbet. Not to diminish their achievement in the advancement of humanity in the field of frozen desserts but I would feel a little outdone.
  • by Wdi (142463) on Friday May 13, 2011 @02:37PM (#36120846)

    Sorry, but this is *not* any innovative science. Rather, it is a computational reproduction of facts already well known. Nothing more than a typical molecular modeling class assignment during a graduate chemistry education.

    He did not invent any new drugs - the really breakthrough was by the researchers of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, see for example VX-770 [cff.org].

    He did not discover the mechanism of action of the drugs. Rather, he took published protein structures and published compounds and re-ran some docking studies (of the same type Vertex and other pharmaceutical companies probably spend hundreds of thousands of processor hours on, with the difficulty that they had to check tens of thousands of compounds, not just two already known to work).

    He was not the first to notice that different promising compounds in clinical trials have different points of interaction with the defective proteins of CF. Thinking that a drug combination may be useful is not exactly a new and brilliant insight, and this was for example even discussed a couple of months ago in CE&N (the general chemistry member journal of the American Chemical Society). I am very confident that is has been evaluated before, and probably there are patents already filed.

    The only interesting point here is that the guy is 16,not 20 or 22 like the normal chemistry student. But then pressing the right buttons in a molecular modeling software is really not that difficult, especially when you already know the outcome you want to reproduce.

    • by DarthVain (724186)

      To be fair we are talking a Canadian education system not American... :)

    • by Draek (916851)

      He did not discover the mechanism of action of the drugs. Rather, he took published protein structures and published compounds and re-ran some docking studies (of the same type Vertex and other pharmaceutical companies probably spend hundreds of thousands of processor hours on, with the difficulty that they had to check tens of thousands of compounds, not just two already known to work).

      He was not the first to notice that different promising compounds in clinical trials have different points of interaction with the defective proteins of CF. Thinking that a drug combination may be useful is not exactly a new and brilliant insight, and this was for example even discussed a couple of months ago in CE&N (the general chemistry member journal of the American Chemical Society). I am very confident that is has been evaluated before, and probably there are patents already filed.

      (Emphasis mine)

      Thank you for so clearly demostrating what's wrong with the Pharmaceutical industry. First they brute-force through computer simulations looking for combinations that might work, then they file patents on those results as if they had done any actual research, and then just to add salt to the wound they don't even bring them to market and into the hands of patients or this kid wouldn't have even tried to do this experiment in the first place.

      But then again, this is the kind of industry that bl

      • by Wdi (142463)

        Thank you for so clearly demostrating what's wrong with the Pharmaceutical industry. First they brute-force through computer simulations looking for combinations that might work, then they file patents on those results as if they had done any actual research, and then just to add salt to the wound they don't even bring them to market and into the hands of patients or this kid wouldn't have even tried to do this experiment in the first place.

        But then again, this is the kind of industry that blackmails governments for a living and even patents freakin' DNA so really, it shouldn't be surprising.

        You are mistaken. The Vertex compounds are now in phase 3 clinical trials and will be marketed if nothing bad shows up (and if it did, it would be a financial disaster, Vertex and various foundations spent well over 100 mil USD on this project). Drugs without FDA approval (or the Canadian equivalent) cannot yet be bought in a pharmacy, that is the law. But be assured, Vertex certainly wants them on the market - otherwise there will be no recovery of expenses, and later proft.

        Finally, drug combinations can o

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by FlyingGuy (989135)

      I have MOD points and right now I want a moderation selection that says, "You'd Shit on your own mother!".

      Jesus fucking Christ dude, a 16 year old, yes that is a KID, a junior in HIGH SCHOOL and you go out of your way to belittle his accomplishment!

      Yes that is how we motivate the young and the obviously gifted to excel in science by crapping all over their accomplishment.

      Look up the definition of asshole in the dictionary and you will find your name, address and photo.

      Ohh yes and the people who modded you

      • by gordo3000 (785698) on Friday May 13, 2011 @03:27PM (#36121400)

        I'm sure the kid, who was working in a lab that has been doing CF research for quite a while, is well aware that he probably just recreated experiments done before.

        If it was discussed a few months ago in a general journal (I'm not sure, but let's assume the parent is correct), it's more likely this was known several months ago in the specialized academic journals that the lab professor would read. So it's far more likely that he is an ambitious student who found a professor to tell him what to do so he could gain experience, not the inventor or discoverer of a cure.

        It's not shitting on him to say he didn't put this together on his own. It's just the truth.

        Why does everyone need to be called a genius in order to feel special enough to work hard in an industry? Have you done research before in a lab? If you had, you'd know that while the GP might be crass, it's exactly the most likely scenario.

      • by Wdi (142463)

        No need to foam.

        I already praised his efforts in another post. He did well, spent a lot of effort, learned something, and hopefully he will be motivated to study chemistry in university by this experience.

        But he did not perform original research, and certainly did not find a cure for CF. He reproduced stuff well known among professionals. He certainly did not discover anything they overlooked.

        Its the hype in the article and the Slashdot summary I am protesting against.

      • by buback (144189)

        No he's not an asshole. He's being realistic, and he's trying to prevent people suffering from this disease from getting their hopes up too high. The fact that a smart kid did well at a science fair is not front page news (except on slashdot).

    • Jesus Christ, man. You put Buzz Killington to shame.

Swap read error. You lose your mind.

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