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Pennsylvania Teen Wins Prestigious Science Award For Work In HIV


Seventeen-year-old Samuel Weissman's research into HIV reservoirs could change the future of treatment.

While most high school seniors spend their summer saving money at a part-time job or stressing over college applications, Harriton High School student Samuel Weissman was looking for different ways to eradicate HIV from the human body. And it paid off. 

Weissman took home the $175,000 second place prize at the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious science and math contest for high school seniors. 

As reports, Weissman’s research centered on how HIV-infected cells are able to form into reservoirs, remaining dormant in the body long after a person is on treatment and undetectable. Using state-of-the-art equipment at the Penn lab, the budding scientist was able to better study HIV’s DNA by assembling an entire genome.

As a result, Weissman gained insights into the persistence of the virus that could potentially help scientists craft new mechanisms of treatment. Through a process known as clonal expansion, his research shows the reservoirs of HIV in the body were able to grow, even as infected cells were being killed. 

“I think my research is on a hot track right now,” said Weissman, whose parents are both behavioral scientists. Preliminary discoveries on how HIV interacts with cancer genes were previously published in the journal Nature Communications. “I think there’s a lot more to be found,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ana Humphrey of Alexandria, Va. took home first prize (and $250,000) for studying planets outside the solar system. Though he didn't take home first, Weissman was simply proud to be part of such a great group of scientists. 

“When I got called, it dawned on me how amazing it was to be on the same stage as all these really brilliant people,” he said.

Currently, he plans on spending a gap year working full-time at the Penn lab before entering college. “I can buy seven cars for $25,000 each,” Weissman said to, “or save it for college … which is what I’m going to do.”

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