Ossining High School student Daniel McQuaid may be competing in some of the nation’s most prestigious science research contests. But he has his sights on more than
winning prizes: McQuaid hopes to help find a cure to cancer.
The high school senior was among 15 students from Westchester, Long Island and New York City to compete last month in the regional finals for the Siemen’s Competition in math, science and technology held at Carnegie Mellon University. McQuaid was the first Ossining High School student ever to make it to the Siemen’s regional finals. Working with Vickram Gidwani, a student at Horace Mann School in New York City, McQuaid developed a compound that causes selective cell death in multiple types of cancer.
The compound, which is an altered version of a drug used to treat depression, works by inactivating cancer-causing proteins. McQuaid’s mentor, Dr. Goutham Narla of
Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, hopes to fast-track the drug so it can be tested in humans within the next couple of years, McQuaid said.
“The compound we have altered has been used in patients with depression for about 30 years and is very well tolerated,” he said. “Since our molecule has a very
similar structure, it is likely to be well tolerated as well.”
McQuaid’s interest in cancer research was sparked by the loss of a cousin to lung cancer.
“It was really difficult losing someone in my family to cancer, so I knew from the beginning of high school that I wanted to do science research and that I wanted it to be cancer-related,” he said, adding that working in the lab the last two summers cemented his interest in the field.
During his first summer in a research lab, McQuaid worked about 50 hours per week at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City under Dr. Narla. Then, last summer,
McQuaid and his research partner, Gidwani, went out to Case Western Reserve University, where Narla had moved to continue their research. Because the students were staying in college dorms close to the lab, they worked about 80 hours a week.
“We started out researching the compound’s effects in lung cancer and then branched out to other types of cancer, and we found that response to our drug may be a phenomenon across many types of cancer,” he said “We were working a lot because the results were so exciting.”
McQuaid and Gidwani, whom he met in Dr. Narla’s lab, plan to submit their research to the Westchester Science and Engineering Fair, which will be held in the spring.