As a young child, Catherine Kim visited science museums so much she considered them her second home. She didn’t see math or science simply as subjects to be taught in school but rather as ways into explaining how the world worked.
“That was something that helped me find my real passion,” said Kim, 18, a senior at Jericho High School.
Over her high school career, Kim worked to create a model to accurately predict adverse drug reactions. That research, conducted under the guidance of her teachers and a Columbia University biomedical informatics professor, led Kim to be named as one of the two top young scientists in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, dubbed the world’s largest high school science competition.
The honor also comes with a $50,000 award.
Kim’s machine-learning approach addressed the flaws of conventional models, and she believes her work, which achieved an overall accuracy of approximately 91%, could someday be used to develop new and safer drugs at a lower cost.
Her project — titled “Novel Prediction of Adverse Drug Reactions and Underlying Pathological Mechanisms via Hierarchical Classification” — sought to create a model that does not rely on drug similarity and provides better biological insights to predict adverse drug reactions and enhance drug safety. Her model looks instead at the chemical structures of the drugs for prediction, she said.
Annually, 100,000 people die from adverse drug reactions, making it the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, she found by researching Food and Drug Administration statistics.
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The idea came to her, she said, seeing her father take different medicines at the same time to treat his high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“I realized that no one was thinking about the potential repercussions of using multiple medications,” she said.
She researched her project for at least two years at the lab of Nicholas Tatonetti, an associate professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University. She was able to go to the lab located at New York-Presbyterian Hospital for one summer — often as the only high school student among the group of researchers — and perform work on-site, but last year her work had to be conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Fortunately, my research was purely computational and I was able to complete all my research from home,” she said.
Catherine Kim, a senior at Jericho High School, will be attending Brown University in the fall. Her finalist project at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair sought a new method to study adverse drug reactions from medications to enhance safety. Credit: Danielle Silverman
Kim is off to Brown University in the fall where she will study computer science and applied mathematics. She plays bassoon and served as one of the captains for the high school varsity fencing team. She also has serves as President of her school’s Research and Heritage committee and is a three-year participant of the Columbia University Science Honors Program.
“Catherine will make a difference in the world due to her sheer grit and determination to succeed,” said Serena McCalla, Science Research Coordinator for the Jericho district. “I encourage my students to be passionate about their work, and they are.”
The Grand Awards Ceremony was held virtually May 21. More than $5 million was awarded to the finalists, who were evaluated based on their projects’ creativity, innovation and level of scientific inquiry.
The competition featured over 1,800 students from 49 states and 64 countries. It is the world’s largest high school science and engineering competition for students in grades ninth through 12th.
The top award and $75,000 went to Michelle Hua, 16, of Troy, Michigan, for her discovery of an artificial intelligence-based algorithm used for human action recognition.
“Every single Regeneron ISEF finalist has persevered in their pursuit of science in the face of the myriad challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of Society for Science which runs the competition.
Jericho High School continually produces students who place in the top spots of the most prestigious science competitions.
Earlier this year, Jericho High School senior Justin Shen, 17, was one of two high school students on Long Island named a finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, earning a $25,000 prize. That science and math competition is open to U.S. residents who are high school seniors.
Joie Tyrrell is a Long Island native and covers education for Newsday, where she has worked for nearly 20 years.