Zachary Neugut plans to spend a year in Israel. Courtesy Frisch School

Zachary Neugut, a 17-year-old senior at The Frisch School in Paramus, was selected as one of 300 national semi-finalists from more than 2,000 applicants in the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology for his research project on cancer.

For the last three summers, Zachary has worked at a laboratory at Columbia University investigating why some cancers are recurrent and resist chemotherapy. The answer may be that these cancers arise from stem cells, which can then start cancer anew when moved to other areas of the body.

At Columbia, Zachary worked with Dr. Igor Matushansky, identifying cancer stem cells in sarcomas. The 25-page paper that earned Zachary the award was titled “Identifying Sarcoma Stem Cells Through Surface Marker Profiling of Sarcoma Cell Lines with Higher Tumorigenic Potential,” a mouthful that Zachary himself does not keep memorized.

In summarizing his paper for the competition, he wrote, in part, “The traditional theory of the origin of cancer is the multistage model of carcinogenesis, in which cancer is caused by a series of mutations to the DNA that cause cells to have uncontrolled growth. However, a new theory hypothesizes that a small segment of the cancer cell population, cancer stem cells, is the cause of the abnormal growth of cancer. My work focused on understanding whether either (or both) of these models are applicable to sarcomas, which are malignancies arising in connective tissue.”

“Dr. Matushansky,” Zachary said in an e-mail to The Jewish Standard, “helped me gain a complete understanding of all the current theories about cancer, and the various projects being done by the leaders in research to combat cancer.”

He added that the overall experience “helped give me a sense of how a real job will be in the future. It helped me understand how important hard work is, as I devoted three summers to having a 40-hour work-week instead of working in a summer camp…. The project really helped me gain an understanding of what a profession in the medical field would be like.”

Zachary credits Frisch and in particular his teacher Albert Tarendash with supporting his interests. On the side, Zachary is captain of the chess team and active on the debate and math teams. His parents are Elyssa and Dr. Alfred Neugut, an oncologist who suggested a research adviser for him. He follows in the footsteps of his sister, who was named a semifinalist for a study of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh.

Zachary is still in contention to be a finalist in the Siemens-Westinghouse competition.

“In the future,” he said, “I’m hoping to spend a year in Israel, go to Columbia University and major in physics, and then see where that takes me.”