The future of STEM

By Kevin Hrusovsky, Executive Chairman and CEO, Quanterix

We are privileged to live in a society that values science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Better known as STEM, these programs play a critical role in the advancement of our society, and are shaping the future of medicine and other disciplines. STEM makes it possible for our children to live in a world where diseases can be detected before symptoms are present and developing nations can implement sustainable initiatives to end poverty.

While recent political news has raised uncertainty about the future of STEM education and research, my confidence was reinforced when this year’s winners of the Regeneron Science Talent Search were announced. Designed to recognize the best scientific research projects, demonstrating exceptional scientific and mathematical ability, the talent search recognized forty of America’s brightest young minds. The winner, whose project was focused in the neurology space, was 17-year-old Indrani Das, from Oradell, New Jersey. While these fields have traditionally been dominated by men, it was inspiring to see the winning idea come from such an amazing young woman.

Indrani’s winning idea centered around neurodegenerative diseases. Her study highlighted a possible approach for treating the death of neurons due to brain injury or neurological disease. Astrogliosi, a condition that occurs when cells called astrocytes react to injury by growing, dividing and reducing their uptake of glutamate, which in excess is toxic to neurons is a contributor to neuron death. Indrani’s research demonstrated that exosomes isolated from astrocytes transfected with microRNA-124a both improved astrocyte uptake of glutamate and increased neuron survival.

Second and third place recognition also highlighted fresh, innovative ideas from intelligent young minds. Runner up, Aaron Yeiser, designed a new mathematical method for solving partial differential equations on complicated geometrics, and Arjun Ramani came in third for his idea to blend the mathematical field of graph theory with computer programming to answer questions about networks.

Since 1942, the Society for Science & the Public has organized and produced the Science Talent Search, with approximately 1,700 students entering the search each year. One of the goals is to inspire future scientific leaders to continue pursuing their passion for math and science, in the hopes of using their talents to one day solve the world’s most intractable problems. At a time when there is so much turmoil, this has never been more important.

Recently, President Trump announced that his budget plan includes cutting funding for scientific and medical research, including reducing the National Institutes of Health’s budget by more than $6 billion, about one-fifth of the agency’s budget. He also plans to cut several government-funded science programs, including the EPA program to clean up the Cheseapeake Bay, the accident-investigating Chemical Safety Board, and a NASA satellite program. Programs like these have long been the backbone of our country. Cut them and we risk losing our position as one of the most innovative and forward thinking countries in the world.

At Quanterix, we whole-heartedly believe in the future of STEM and trust in the next-generation of scientists. Initiatives like our Accelerator Grant Program are designed to help facilitate research across a variety of therapeutic areas, in order to transform the way diseases are diagnosed and treated. The bi-annual program grants a researcher access to our Accelerator Lab, as well as our scientists and additional resources, free of charge. In this way, anyone with an idea can have the ability to give their hypotheses the proper analysis and testing.

We must all join together to ensure that our medical and scientific programs continue to inspire greatness among our young scientists, mathematicians, technicians, researchers and engineers. The future of our nation lies in their hands. We must invest in STEM to guarantee that our future scientific leaders have the tools they need to develop and test their ideas for the betterment of society.