Meet NAVS’ 2022 Humane Science Award Winners

ISEF 2022 Winners

This spring marked the 20th year of NAVS presenting its Humane Science Award at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)—the world’s largest high school science competition. This award recognizes students whose projects demonstrate innovation and scientific advancement through the use of alternatives to animal experimentation. NAVS is the only animal advocacy organization that presents an award at ISEF.

The Humane Science Award is given to students whose projects show scientific excellence and advance science through the use of alternatives to animal experimentation, especially through the replacement of live animals with non-animal methodologies. Projects that include non-invasive observation of animals are also considered for recognition.

After reviewing hundreds of abstracts and interviewing a dozen students both virtually and in person at the ISEF conference in Atlanta, Georgia, the NAVS team named three students as recipients of our 2022 Humane Science Award.

The third-place award, which came with a cash prize of $2,500, went to Maya Butani, a high school senior from Moorestown, New Jersey. Inspired by the increasing demand for lab grown tissue and organs, Maya decided to research the best way to grow human cells in a 3D framework. There are limitations with using decellularized animal tissues as scaffolding, so Maya turned to the plant kingdom instead.

Specifically, she examined how human stem cells that could be differentiated into other types of cells would react to being grown on two different types of celery scaffold structures. When the stem cells were grown using a porous celery scaffold, the cells began developing as human bone tissue; when the cells were grown using a fibrous celery scaffold, the cells specialized as early muscle tissue. Not only was this plant-powered project cool enough to catch our eye, but Maya also ended up winning first place among the biochemistry entries. Go, Maya!

For our second-place award (and $5,000 prize) we selected Arthur Liang, a high school senior from New York City. Arthur’s project focused on using human cells as a model for studying alcohol use disorder. Using stem cells derived from adult human tissue, Arthur grew the specific neurons responsible for the rewarding feelings that lead to addiction. He then treated these neurons with ethanol and observed the chemical reactions that ensued. Arthur was able to isolate the reactions that he believes lead to alcohol induced long term memory and learning impairment. There is currently no reliable treatment for alcohol use disorder, but we hope that human-based research like Arthur’s will lead to a better understanding of the disease and its cure.

Finally, as our first-place winner—and recipient of a $10,000 prize—we chose Saptarshi Mallick, a high school senior from Tuscon, Arizona. Saptarshi created organoid models of a pituitary tumor to study the causes of Cushing’s disease. Starting with human stem cells, Saptarshi used the gene editor CRISPR/Cas9 to create the mutations suspected of being involved with the growth of the tumor that causes Cushing’s. He then treated the organoids with different drugs and studied the varied hormone levels between models, yielding more accurate results than previous studies that used mouse models.

Saptarshi also grew organoids using cells taken directly from Cushing’s patients. By studying the different hormone levels secreted by each of the tumor organoids, he determined that Cushing’s is extremely variable from individual to individual, and thus therapies must be tailor made for each person, something that is only possible through personalized human-based drug discovery. Congratulations to all our winners. We can’t wait to see what brilliant humane contributions to science they will make as they head off to college.