Jud Kilbourn has spent his afternoons and summers growing cancer cells in Phoenix’s Barrow Neurological Institute for almost three years.
The recent graduate of Desert Mountain High School is in the last stages of research targeting a gene that may prevent chemotherapy from killing cancer.
Last week that effort brought the Scottsdale 17-year-old a $1,000 prize and honorable mention in the 2004 Aventis International BioGENEius Challenge in San Francisco.
Kilbourn’s study of the alpha B crystallin gene has also won him the honor of being the only high school student to speak at the American Association for Cancer Research national meeting in March.
He also won first place in the 2004 Central Arizona Science and Engineering Fair, and won the grand prize for the same research in 2003.
"I don’t think a lot of what I do is being really heroic or anything," he said. "It’s been a good learning experience, and we hope to publish it. And I think I will make not a major contribution, but a tangible contribution to the work on cancer."
Kilbourn said that when cancer cells are treated with chemotherapy, there are often cells that are resistant to the treatment and grow back.
One theory is that genetics gives these cells an advantage and enables them to survive the treatment.
His work is to isolate this gene, which tends to show up in cases of resistance to chemotherapy.
Kilbourn is one of about 10 high school and college students who work with Dr. Adrienne C. Scheck at Barrow. Every year the medical center takes in students to inspire them and add to the continuous gathering of scientific knowledge, Scheck said.
Kilbourn said his work has proved to him that he loves medical research. He will head to Boston University in August, where he is considering studying molecular biology.