Monday, May 17, 1999

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Kapualokelanipomaika'i Medeiros is a Kamehameha
Schools senior. She's shy about her achievements, but
her science fair project is considered the best high school
medical research project in the world.

Kauai student,
17, may hold seed
of cancer cure

Her research into papaya
pips is honored at an
international science fair

By Gregg K. Kakesako


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology wanted her.

But in the end, Kamehameha Schools senior Kapualokelanipomaika'i Katherine Medeiros decided on Dartmouth College in New Hampshire because she "wanted to have some fun."

Medeiros, 17, also wants to continue a nearly yearlong cancer research project that recently was honored as the best high school medical science project in the world.

Her project, one of more than 1,000 from 47 countries entered in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, won her first prize in the medical and health category.

The project delved into papaya seeds as possible anti-cancer agents, and earned her a total of $8,000 in cash prizes.

Medeiros, who is ranked fourth in her class of 450 seniors with a 4.15 grade-point average, was one of 17 students who represented Hawaii with 13 different projects. Larry Mordan, Medeiros' science teacher, said that of the 17 Hawaii entrants, six, including Medeiros, placed in the top three positions in their categories.

Other winners included students from Iolani School, Kapaa High School and St. Joseph School.

Rajsree Borthakur, an Iolani junior, placed third and won $1,000 in the botany category. Her project tested genetically engineered plants' resistance to corn ear worm larvae. She found that she could increase the plants' resistance by spraying salicylic acid on them.

Lisa Wang, another Iolani junior, received a $1,500 second-place award in the chemistry category.

Her project involved grafting polymers on thin layers of gold using an innovative sensor technique.

Joel Truesdell, another of Medeiros' science teachers, noted that the Kauai native is a product of an honors science research program started by Kamehameha Schools President Michael Chun nearly a decade ago.

Since then, nearly a dozen Kamehameha Schools students have won national and international science fair honors.

"The reason we are able to do university-quality research," Mordan said, "is because this lab was recently renovated and equipped with the same things you would find at a good university."

Medeiros' research project began nearly a year ago when she took an honors Hawaiian medicine class taught by Truesdell.

Her thesis came from a book by June Gutman -- "Kahuna Laau Lapaau" -- which noted that papaya seeds could kill cancer-producing cells.

Medeiros tested the thesis using extracts drawn separately from papaya seeds and from the bright orange flesh of the fruit.

Medeiros said her tests showed that "papaya seeds consistently inhibited growth of breast cancer cells."

The data from the fruit itself was inconsistent, she said.

Further tests were done to try to determine the active compounds of the papaya seeds. Some of the samples were even sent to the University of Hawaii Chemistry Department to try to get more information on the chemical structure of the seeds.

More research needs to be done to determine the exact makeup of the compound, said Medeiros, who wants to be a doctor.

Mordan, who used to work for the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, said Medeiros was able to determine that the compound found in papaya seeds is highly toxic.

"It's a natural product," he said, "and (it) offers the possibility of a new therapeutic agent."

Medeiros, who grew up in Anahola, wants to return to Kauai to practice medicine and "give something back" to the people there.

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