Student Wins Nation’s Top High School Science Competition for Work with Exosomes

Indrani Das, 17, a student at Bergen County Academies, developed a new approach to treating neurodegenerative diseases

ORADELL, N.J. — A Bergen County Academies student has won the nation’s oldest science and math competition and $250,000 for developing a new approach to treating neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s.

Indrani Das, 17, won the top award at the Regeneron Science Talent Search sponsored by the Society for Science & the Public. She was among 40 finalists chosen to receive part of the $1.8 million in awards.

“It’s bad enough that when you receive a traumatic brain injury, a stroke, a neurodegenerative disease, there’s already damage that is going on to a neuron’s brain cells,” Das said in a statement. “But in addition to that, there are supporting cells, specifically astrocytes, that contribute to that death and damage.”

Das, of Oradell, developed a way to possibly repair astrocytes and neurons using RNA molecules packaged in tiny vesicles called exosomes that can easily reach the brain. In a laboratory model, Das showed that this technique improved cell metabolism and increased neurons’ chance of survival. She attends the Academy for Medical Science Technology in Hackensack.

Donna Leonardi, Das’ mentor and a science teacher at the academy, said she “demonstrates a sincere passion for the scientific endeavor, and her integrity and work ethic are without compare. What is special is that she puts her heart into all she does, and coupled with her intellect, she will attain great heights.”

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