The experience of working at Hope Hospice, near her home in Fort
Myers, Florida, inspired 16 year-old Jamie Rubin to conduct research
that led to an amazing discovery: the identification of molecules
could help treat serious infections caused by the fungus Candida
albicans. Jamie, a senior at Fort Myers's
Canterbury School, was awarded top honors for her work by the
Intel Science Talent Search
(STS), one of the nation's most prestigious
scientists. Her first place finish was accompanied by a $100,000
Often referred to as the "junior Nobel Prize," the Intel
STS is America's oldest pre-college science competition. For over
60 years, the competition has provided incentive and means for
U.S. high school seniors to present their original research projects
for recognition by a jury comprised of many of the nation’s
leading professional scientists. Since its establishment, the STS
has provided millions of dollars in scholarships to more then 2400
finalists. Intel STS alumni constitute a virtual “who’s
who” of recipients of the world's most coveted science and
math honors, including three National Medal of Science winners,
ten MacArthur Foundation Fellows, two Fields Medalists, and five
Nobel Laureates. For more information about the Intel STS, visit
At Hope Hospice, Jamie provided care for people with life limiting
illnesses such as cancer, HIV and AIDS. She runs cross-country
at Canterbury School, plays piano and hand bells, and participates
in theater. As she prepares for graduation and study this fall
at Harvard University, Jamie sat down with Access Excellence contributing
writer Sean Elwell to talk about her work and plans for the future.
Q: How would you summarize your Intel
Science Talent Search project?
A: I identified a number of drug candidates
for a fungal infection that attacks people with compromised immune
people with AIDS.
It’s a type of infection that would never
take hold in a healthy person but can be life threatening in a
person with a comprised immune system. These infections are usually
Q: What about your work do you think caught the attention of the
A: I used combinatorial techniques to target
the virulence factors of the Thrush
causing fungus and
designed drugs to attack specific enzymes associated with the fungus.
or innovative aspect of the project are the efficiencies I discovered
for identifying compounds that can be used to attack specific enzymes.
Instead of having to test each possible compound enzyme
I found a way to test only those interactions that were most potentially
useful. The efficiency techniques I came up with reduced the time
to discovery to a small fraction of what it might have been using
traditional methods. The challenge of identifying any compound
to be used as a drug in treating human disease is to identify a
compound destructive to the thing you’re trying to kill yet
harmless to the human host. Ultimately I discovered a family of
drug candidates called aspartic
proved to be very effective in attacking enzymes specific to the
Thrush fungus. I
also tested the drugs for safety on human enzymes to good effect.
Eventually, I hope these drugs will be tested on actual human subjects.
My tests suggest the aspartic proteinases will be both effective
and safe, more work needs to be done though.
Q: How did you take interest in this particular area of research?
A: I spent 2 years volunteering at Hope Hospice, preparing food
and feeding patients and saw the suffering caused by Thrush
infections first-hand, the suffering it causes is immeasurable. I also read
as much as I could about the disease, mostly in textbooks.
Q: How did you make the jump from your interest in the human aspects
of the disease to doing scientific research?
A: First, I have a history of doing science projects and participating
fairs. I’m always looking for a worthwhile scientific
mystery to solve. This one was both important enough and interesting
enough to encourage me to dig deeper.
Q: What role did you family and parents play in the process?
A: My mother, a Nurse Practitioner, is always an inspiration to
me. My parents were also willing to drive me 4 hours away, 4 hours
each way, to the library at the University of Florida to gain access
to good scientific resources. Those visits also enabled me to have
conversations with University of Florida professors who also helped
me with my research.
Q: What are your short-term and future ambitions in science and
A: Well I’m going to college next year at Harvard and looking
forward to it. I’m going to study Biology and Physics and
also take English courses. I will continue with scientific thought
but not specifically research.
Q: What are you doing this summer?:
A: I’ve been asked to be a counselor at the Research
Science Institute at MIT. It’s a program that accepts students from
all over the world to participate in an intensive summer science
program. I was a participant last year and will be a counselor
Q: Is there any advise you can offer to other high school students
who also take an interest in science?
A: Science competitions like STS are great and
I encourage others to participate in them. They help add focus
to your work and they
can be a lot of fun. I’d also say to pursue science and your
interest in science and don’t place too much emphasis on
winning. I see a lot of kids going out there with a lot of pressure
to win science fairs and it’s not helpful, it then becomes
more about winning and less about science. I’d say to enjoy
the science and enjoy the competition and let it take you wherever
it takes you. It’s good to take part in competitions but
it’s also important to keep competition in perspective. Stay
in touch with the science that interests you and keep pursuing
Jamie Rubin speaks to visitors about
her biochemistry project
(courtesy of www.sciserv.org)
Bob Goldberg, Feature Photo Service
Q: Do you have any URLs you’d like to share?
A: www.pubmed.com is a great site but requires a paid subscription
to gain access to the most important resources. You can usually
use a University or library subscription if you ask. Pubmed has
deep background information and provides good access to new and
current information. Pubmed was an important resource in doing
my research for the STS project.