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A Shot at Preventing Colon Cancer

Did you know colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the U.S.?1 Determined to make a dent in these statistics, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair2 (Intel ISEF) 2013 finalist Keven Stonewall used findings from immunology studies on other kinds of cancer to develop a promising experimental vaccine for colon cancer.

From the first time he looked at cells through a microscope in fifth grade, Keven Stonewall was hooked. Mesmerized by the strange particles and patterns beneath the lens, he felt compelled to learn more.

It was this curiosity and determination—as well as support from his educator parents—that helped Stonewall overcome the odds of growing up on Chicago’s South Side. By freshman year, he was investigating science careers in a summer program. By junior year, he was ready to work in a university lab. There, motivated from watching a buddy’s uncle battle colon cancer, he hoped to find a way to save others from the disease.

The next year, while his friends were hanging out, Stonewall was in the lab, reading research journals and tinkering with test tubes and high-tech microscopes.

Based on research suggesting that a chemotherapeutic agent might be effective in inducing the death of other kinds of cancer cells and promoting a healthy immune response, Stonewall created a colon cancer vaccine with a high concentration of mitoxantrone. He administered this vaccine to mice in two age groups (to gauge the impact of age) and injected them with colon cancer cells. He then measured responses, including the makeup of dendritic cells, tumor growth, and survival rates.

Most impressive was the effect on the younger group: 100 percent demonstrated immunity to the cancer, with boosted immune system responses and absence of any tumors.

This work earned Stonewall awards at numerous science fairs, including being a student finalist at the 2013 Intel ISEF.

“Intel ISEF was the best experience of my life,” he says. “It legitimized my work. I never thought anyone was paying attention to what I’d done, but when one of the judges said, ‘Keep going with this,’ it made me feel like my research was worth pursuing.”

Today, Stonewall studies biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Around campus, he’s known as “the colon cancer guy,” as well as a STEM ambassador. 

His colon cancer research now includes early detection methods, as well as vaccines. One day, he hopes to eradicate the disease.

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Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)

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Keven Stonewall at Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

A program of Society for Science and the Public, Intel ISEF is the world’s largest pre-college science competition with over $4 million in awards.

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1. Source: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer/detailedguide/colorectal-cancer-key-statistics

2. A program of the Society for Science & the Public.