Meet Stephen Litt.
He's a 12-year-old middle schooler who lives outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He loves playing tennis and the oboe.
Oh yeah, and he's also helping to find a cure for cancer.
"The middle schooler's project for the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair used an antioxidant in green tea to fight cancer growth in worms. It's won prizes across the state and gained attention from researchers nationwide.
Stephen...became interested in cancer-related research after two family friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. He immediately began reading up on cancer, and found an article about decreased rates of the disease in Japan in connection with the antioxidants in green tea."
After this initial research, Stephen developed a hypothesis that a certain chemical in green tea, known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), could inhibit tumor formation.
To test his theory out, he and his father ordered materials online, including 100 flatworms to serve as subjects, and built a makeshift lab. (Stephen's father, Lesley, who works as a chemist, mixed the carcinogens himself to make sure everything was done safely.)
Stephen next divided the worms into the following four groups:
- one group exposed only to EGCG
- a second group exposed to EGCG for 24 hours, followed by two carcinogens for the remainder of the four weeks
- a third group exposed only to the two carcinogens
- a fourth group, the control, exposed only to spring water
Stephen used a microscope given to him by his grandparents to analyze the results, and discovered that the worms exposed to both EGCG and carcinogens had grown no tumors.
Michael Levin, a Tufts University professor and the director of the Allen Discovery Center, became aware of Stephen's project after it won a number of awards. Levin invited Stephen to pay a visit to one of the university's research labs.
"The work is very interesting and has the potential to advance not only cancer research but regenerative medicine as well," Levin told ABC news. "It was clear that he thought very deeply about these issues."
For next year's project, Stephen plans to build on his research with further testing.
"I don't know how to describe it. It just feels good," said Stephen, about using his time for research. "I'm doing something important. I'm doing something that is scientific and I'm doing something that could potentially help people."