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Kevin Zhu

Jericho Senior High School
Jericho, New York

About Kevin Zhu

Kevin studied types of DNA changes often associated with neurological disease and found they may have strong associations with cancer. He believes these may prove useful as measurable indicators, called biomarkers, for future cancer blood tests.

Recurrent Repeat Contractions and Micro-Changing Short Tandem Repeats: Investigating Underrepresented Factors of Polymorphism in Human Cancers

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Kevin Zhu, 18, of Old Westbury, used computational methods to identify new biomarkers that may enable earlier and easier detection of certain cancers for his genomics project for the Regeneron Science Talent Search. Although the biology of cancer is incredibly complex, its origin is conceptually simple: genetic “mistakes” develop in the DNA of previously healthy cells, which change how they replicate, making them cancerous over time. Two relatively unstudied ways this occurs in DNA are recurrent repeat contractions (rRCs) and micro-changing short tandem repeats (mcSTRs). Kevin used a database of genomic information to identify these types of genetic changes in cancer subtypes and was able to show that they appear to cluster in areas associated with known DNA changes that lead to cancer. He then performed in vitro experiments which validated his results by showing that rRCs and mcSTRs could potentially be identified in blood plasma, meaning that these could serve as future cancer biomarkers in the blood.

An accomplished pianist, Kevin attends Jericho Senior High School and is the CEO of The Incandescent, an organization promoting teenage mental health through creative arts and mentorship. His parents are Julia and Nelson Zhu.

2023 STS Finalists Kevin Zhu with Project

Beyond the Project

Kevin is an accomplished pianist who has studied at Juilliard and performed internationally. He also leads an organization that promotes teenage mental health through creative arts.

FUN FACTS: Kevin considers himself a “strategically spontaneous, music-fueled explorer seeking discomfort and adventure to create global connections,” like when he jet skied to Catalina Island to photograph dolphins.

Illustration of 2023 STS finalist Kevin Zhu by Amy Wike
Illustration by Amy Wike