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Building on basics

Kids in the Lab
High School Scientists Start at the Top

Bobby Wang, 17, is investigating CHES1, a protein that may play a role in prostate cancer. Rupa Lalchandani, 16, is looking at PAI-1, another suspected cancer culprit. Lucas Sheen, 17, is researching the significance of CAG repeat lengths in androgen receptor function.
Rather than shooting hoops or hanging out at the mall, these determined Sacramento high school juniors and seniors have spent the summer and most school-day afternoons this year working alongside UC Davis Cancer Center researchers.

The apprentice scientists are the second crop of Mira Loma High School students to intern in the laboratories of Hsing-Jien Kung, Cliff Tepper, Paul Gumerlock, Xu Bao Shi and Ralph deVere White. The first students — Denton Sato and Mira Lalchandani (Rupa’s older sister) — took home $1,000 and a third-place prize in a prestigious international science competition earlier this year for the work they accomplished with cancer center researchers. Both are now in college.

Besides scientific curiosity and a willingness to work hard, the students all have one other thing going for them: their science teacher, Dean Karagianes. A UC Davis alumnus who majored in zoology, the veteran educator teaches biology in Mira Loma High School’s challenging international baccalaureate program. Karagianes’s kids are required to conduct original scientific research culminating in a 4,000-word lab project. Most carry out their research as unpaid volunteers in outside laboratories, and Karagianes does what he can to help place them.

“No other place has opened its arms to our students like UC Davis Cancer Center has,” Karagianes said. “Everyone here has been just great.”

The students are grateful for the opportunity, too. “It’s really interesting,” said Sheen, who rattles off facts about CAG repeat lengths the way other teens spout rap lyrics. “In everything I do, I try to have my actions help someone else. Medical research is one of the most direct ways to promote wellness in others.”


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Science teacher Dean Karagianes surrounded by his students and their mentors at UC Davis Cancer Center. Clockwise from forst row, center: Xu Bao Shi, Rupa Lalchandani, Denton Sato, Bobby Wang, Tatsuo Kimura, Cliff Tepper, Lucas Sheen and Don-hua Shi.