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Ashburn’s Adriel Sumathipala: This year biotech, next year the prom

Sumathipala presenting the project that got him to The BioGENEius Challenge in San Diego. - Courtesy/Jordan Gray
Adriel Sumathipala, a student at Broad Run High School sat at his home in Ashburn June 19 to explain the project that punched him a ticket to the BioGENEius Challenge in San Diego this past weekend.

The BioGENEius Challenge pits 15 of the brightest high school students against each other in a science project competition.

As he sat in his Ashburn home Sumathipala quickly spoke and used a small legal pad he had ready made with talking points.

His elocution was excited, not nervous. He began his explanation of a project, which seems quite ambitious, simply enough.

"Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States," said Sumathipala.

He then dipped into a biotechnology lesson that would be largely incomprehensible to the lay person.

"My research developed three inexpensive and accurate point-of-care tests to detect oxidized LDL and cholesterol, the bio markers of Coronary Heart Disease."

His plan was to develop inexpensive tests for blood glucose strips which could eventually connect with a smartphone.

The app would use global assessment risk factors like age, whether the user is a smoker and the tests Sumathipala is creating to calculate a persons heart health.

"Doctors and patients could use it for quicker results," said Sumathipala.

His hope is that the app will bring early awareness to a person's heart disease and allow quicker diagnosis.

Sumathipala's mother, who was sitting in the corner of the room in an arm chair as he explained his plans, stayed silent. He needed no help in delivering his presentation or answering any question lobbed his way.

On June 22 he had questions fired his way during a nine-minute judges question and answer session following his six-minute presentation.

"They definitely seemed to like my research, and improve on it and make it more marketable," said Sumathipala.

In the hours just before judging ended and the winners were announced he was explaining the excitement of being in the midst of such a talented group of young scientists.

"The other kids are really nice and their research is very impressive," he said.

Having his projects reach a wider group was something he hit on at his house. The coffee table in front of Sumathipala was chock-full of heady international magazines like The New Yorker, Foreign Policy, TIME and The Economist.

Reading about public policy and understanding the larger world picture he says resulted in a shift in his focus to humanities. He wants to "have a significant impact on the lives of people."

Sumathipala was excited that the conference was happening at the same time as the BIO conference, a major gathering of biotech industry professionals.

"It's great because I can network, and I'll have unparalleled access to top industry professionals," said Sumathipala in a manner befitting a mid-career professional hoping for a break.

"From the time I was young I was interested in science," said Sumathipala.

The whole journey began when he filed an online application in February and submitted his abstract.

His research started last year with a scholarly article search and began testing his hypothesis with help from the Baltimore Underground Science Space and his middle school science teacher at Farmwell Station Middle School. He was told he was in the finals in April.

Last year another of Sumathipala's projects, which attempted to use glucose in the human body to power pacemakers, inner ear implants and other biological implants, won Loudoun County Public School's top science prize at the Regional Science and Engineering Fair.

From that he went to Phoenix for the International Science and Engineering Fair.

When not reading and studying biotechnology he enjoys playing the bassoon, weightlifting, taking his dog for a walk and playing video games.

"Just normal kids stuff," he said.

After the competition he sent a simple text. "I didn't medal for the first four spots, but I still had a great time."

The first place winner will be going to college next year. Sumathipala, a rising junior, will be going to his first prom.


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