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A Tabb High senior is looking to better treat cancer patients with his study of a new therapy, which has gained the attention of an international science fair.
Robin Bai, who is also a student at the New Horizons Governor’s School for Science and Technology, took the overall grand prize at the Tidewater Science and Engineering Fair in March and will represent the Tidewater region at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Arizona, this week.
“He’s going places,” Principal Angela Seiders said of the 17-year-old.
Bai will present his study on the development of a new micellar combination therapy, using doxorubicin and mitotane, to target cancer cells and treat multi-drug resistant cancers.
He said the combination is cost-effective and combines a common anticancer drug and a more obscure drug. He was able to test the combination on prostate cancer cells and hopes to make it more versatile, working on multi-drug resistant breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancer among others.
Crediting his teachers and the community for supporting him and encouraging his research, Bai is able to conduct his research through a mentorship program at Hampton University under the tutelage of Feng Li in the School of Pharmacy.
“I can get my hands dirty over there,” Bai said. “However, I hope in the future high schools offer more mentorship programs and more funding for lab work.”
Bai stems from a strong research background from his parents. His father currently works at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, and his mother, now a pharmacist, used to conduct research at Hampton University.
He said his driving force comes from sheer curiosity as well.
Bai said Tabb and the Governor’s School are very receptive to research and heavily encourage it.
Bai’s favorite thing about research is testing things people never knew about, finding new discoveries and experiencing the latest and greatest in technology.
Starting as a sixth-grader, Bai has now participated in the Tidewater Science and Engineering Fair seven times. This year will be his first at an international competition.
His most recent study is the culmination of four years of work, which he credits to constant support from two of his science teachers at Tabb, Joyce Kuberek and Karen Mayeaux.
His favorite thing about science fairs: the criticism.
“I really like going to science fairs. It gives me a chance [to have them] cook me up like a chicken,” Bai said of the critical feedback from judges and other professionals, which he calls “roasting.”
He said he likes to take the feedback and revisit his research, something he welcomed often from his research instructor Margaret Mulvey at the Governor’s School.
“Everything is more interesting with a challenge,” Bai said. “Perseverance is key. Whatever you do, just keep going and doing it. You’ll get a good result eventually.”
He said he also enjoys meeting new people interested in the same fields, obtaining fresh new ideas and making lifelong connections at science fairs.
While he spends most of his time in the lab, Bai also participates on the swim and tennis teams and coaches the middle school MATHCOUNTS team.
Bai is attending the University of Virginia this fall and hopes to go into the medical field, possibly medical school and taking on a Ph.D.
“That’s a bit too ambitious,” he admitted.
However, the two degrees would offer the luxury of being able to focus on both the development and application of treatments.
“For me, I’d like to see the whole process through,” Bai said. “”In life, it’s always more beneficial to see the whole process through.”