Along with sports, Fox Chapel high school junior pursues cancer research

| Monday, June 20, 2011

The junior year of high school is always known as a hectic year, according to Fox Chapel Area high school student Ishan Chatterjee.

His own has been no exception.

Among the activities keeping the 16-year-old busy were homework, varsity tennis and cross country. And cancer research.

Chatterjee has been conducting research with a lab at the Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside since November.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Lotze, professor of surgery and bioengineering and vice chair of research in the Department of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, Chatterjee has performed work that even graduate-level students likely would find intriguing.

"From volunteering at the lab, it shifted over to me being able to pursue my own research," Chatterjee said.

His research revolves around a particular protein, BAT3 and its role in cancer cells' resistance to chemotherapy.

Chatterjee's work has received recognition and quite a number of awards this year.

He recently was named one of three state finalists in the Pennsylvania BioGENEius Challenge.

He and the other finalists will attend the national BioGENEius Challenge and compete for a chance to take part in the International BioGENEius Challenge.

Among other honors he's received this past year are second-place grand award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in the cellular and molecular biology category.

He garnered a first-place win in the medicine category at the Pennsylvania Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

Chatterjee also was chosen to be one of two delegates to the American Association for the Advancement of Science National Convention, to be held next year in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"He's pretty much ahead of the game," Lotze said.

Lotze is the head of the Damage Associated Molecular Pattern Molecule, or DAMP, lab at the Hillman Cancer Center and researches tumor immunology.

While the cancer center takes on rising seniors as volunteers at its three sites for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Summer Academy, Lotze said Chatterjee is the youngest student he's ever had in his lab.

Chatterjee will continue on with Lotze this summer.

"We're delighted that he's going to be with us," Lotze said.

For Chatterjee, the feeling, it seems, is mutual.

He said Lotze and another mentor, William Buchser, have been "very kind and generous."

He sees his work now as a natural progression for a kid like himself, who built spaceships out of Lego blocks and made multitudes of paper airplanes.

"I'm particularly interested in bioengineering, which combines engineering and medicine," he said.

He said he is interested in oncology and plans to pursue a graduate degree and a medical degree.

"My favorite part is the people I've interacted with at the lab and at the science fairs," he said. "I've learned a lot from them but I've also had a ton of fun with them."

Ishan Chatterjee

Age: 16

Hometown: Fox Chapel

Family: Mother, Mita; father, Rabikar; brother, Onny

Favorite thing about the Valley: The natural beauty and the greenery of the area

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