Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and the Society for Science and the Public March 14 announced that Indrani Das, of New Jersey, was chosen as the top winner in the 76th Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Das, a 17-year-old Indian American student from New Jersey, was among 40 young competitors in one of the country’s oldest science and math competitions honored at the annual Regeneron Science Talent Search Awards Gala for their research projects demonstrating exceptional scientific and mathematical ability.

Nearly one-third of the 40 finalists were Indian Americans (see previous India-West story).

The winners announced at the gala took home more than $1.8 million in awards provided by main competition sponsor, Regeneron.

Das won the top award of $250,000 for her study of a possible approach to treating the death of neurons due to brain injury or neurodegenerative disease.

A contributor to neuron death is astrogliosis, a condition that occurs when cells called astrocytes react to injury by growing, dividing and reducing their uptake of glutamate, which in excess is toxic to neurons, according to the Regeneron and SSP joint statement.

In a laboratory model, Das showed that exosomes isolated from astrocytes transfected with microRNA-124a both improved astrocyte uptake of glutamate and increased neuron survival, it said.

Indian American Arjun Ramani, 18 of West Lafayette, Ind., took third place in the competition, winning $150,000.

Ramani was chosen for blending the mathematical field of graph theory with computer programming to answer questions about networks, the statement said.

Typically, these questions require statistical comparisons to hundreds or thousands of random graphs, a process that can take a relatively long time. He developed an algorithm that greatly accelerated the process by reducing the time required to generate these graphs, it said.

Regeneron is the new sponsor, taking over for Intel, which has sponsored the event in years past. Regeneron, which is committed to 10 years of the program, is only the third sponsor in the program's history and significantly increased awards to better reward the nation’s brightest young scientists and encourage their continued pursuit of scientific innovation.

“Now more than ever, we need our nation’s best and brightest young minds to pursue their interest in science and use their talents to solve our world’s most intractable problems,” said Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science & the Public and publisher of Science News, in a statement.

“Congratulations to the Regeneron Science Talent Search 2017 top winners,” said Dr. George D. Yancopoulos, president and chief scientific officer of Regeneron. “My experience as a Science Talent Search winner led me to embark on a career in science, and I hope it will inspire these exceptional young scientists to become the next generation of innovators that will improve the world and solve some of our most pressing challenges as a society.”

Three other Indian American students also placed in the top 10, including Archana Verma in fifth place, Prathik Naidu in seventh, and Vrinda Madan in ninth.

Verma, 17, of Jericho, N.Y., received a $90,000 award for her study of the molecular orbital energy dynamics of dyes, which may someday result in windows that produce solar energy.

Naidu, 18, of Potomac Falls, Va., received a $70,000 award for his creation of a new machine learning software to study 3-D interactions of the human genome in cancer.

Madan, 17, of Orlando, Fla., received a $50,000 award for her study of 24 potential compounds for the treatment of malaria, in which she found two potential candidates that appear to target the disease-causing organism in a novel way and may warrant further study.

The remaining 30 finalists each received $25,000.

The finalists come from 34 schools in 17 states. They were chosen from a group of 300 scholars named earlier in the month, of which at least 75 were Indian American or South Asian American students (see India-West article here).

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