Academic Spotlight: Carl Zhang

Academic Spotlight: Carl Zhang

Aja Topps-Harjo ’21

Carl Zhang ’21 in the lab in his personalized white lab coat.

Carl Zhang ’21 is not only a charismatic person, but a pillar in the academic community at Western Reserve Academy. At only 18 years old, Zhang has co-authored a published paper in an academic journal alongside his mentor, Dr. Aguilar, and lab partners, Tiger Ma ’21 and former student Tommy Feng. Carl explains that he loves biology because he is fascinated with the mystery of the origin of life and the concept of a “brain and machine interface,” which will induce the “next human evolution.” He talked about how the unexpected results in lab work create a “dopamine release” in his brain. Zhang says that working days in the lab with no results and then trying something different and finally getting a reaction brings him a moment of indescribable joy.

After Carl used a green fluorescent protein to track how prostate cancer cells spread in mice, he shared this experiment with the scientific community in a journal publication. The lab entailed transfecting (introducing a foreign gene into a cell) a green fluorescent protein into prostate cancer cells to track metastasis (the spread of cancer cells) because under a UV light the cells would glow a bright green color. The roadblock in the experiment was finding which mice had cancer cells that were properly transfected with the green fluorescent protein. To test this, they had to use Neomycin 6418 (an antibiotic which can kill cancer cells) to weed out non-transfected cells because the plasma used inside of the transfected cells had resistance to Neomycin 6418. He worked for a month trying to determine the “the perfect kill curve” for the amount of time and concentration to determine if the transfection was successful. After a number of trial and error, it worked.

Another aspect of the paper was their investigation of the tumor suppressor gene P53, a natural mechanism that stops cell growth when it detects something wrong in your genes. The mutation of P53 causes about 50% of all cancer on the cell surface which is why he focused on it. Using the Crispr Cast 5, Zhang and his lab partners knocked out the P53 gene and compared these knocked out P53 genes with the control and found that the growth of the mutant P53 was faster. From the observations made in these experiments, he moved on to Protein Purification to produce a vaccine.

Zhang’s academic journey, like many, was impacted by the pandemic. He was unable to attend an international conference in Hawaii and internship at the Cleveland Clinic. However, Zhang is continuing to stay positive.

The interview ended with some shoutouts to his lab partners Feng, former student Rachel Jiang and Ma. Thank you to Mrs. Horgan for her CL US History class which taught him a lot about a world outside of STEM. Lastly, a special thanks to Dr. Aguilar for introducing Carl to a brand new world with his Cancer Immunology class.

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