Palo Alto High School
Palo Alto, California
About Ryan Lee
Ryan studied the effects of impaired mitochondria, a cell’s energy source, on neurodegeneration. He found that impairing a neuron’s ability to produce energy not only inhibited the cell’s ability to grow but also led to a complete loss of synapses. He believes his findings suggest that a cellular energy crisis may be an underlying cause of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Mitochondrial Fission Regulates Structural Plasticity and Synapse Maintenance in Circadian Pacemaker NeuronsView Poster
Ryan Lee, 18, of Palo Alto, studied the effects of impaired mitochondria, a cell’s energy source, on neurodegeneration for his Regeneron Science Talent Search cellular and molecular biology project. Neurons can change their shape and size in response to new experiences, a property known as structural plasticity. Ryan proposed that interrupting the neurons’ energy source by preventing mitochondrial fission (splitting) might affect this plasticity. For his research, he used fruit fly circadian neurons, which expand at dawn and retract at dusk, from genetically modified fruit flies with reduced levels of a protein critical for mitochondrial fission. Ryan found that impairing the fission lowered the cell’s structural plasticity and led to a complete loss of synapses as the fruit flies aged. He believes his findings suggest that a cellular energy crisis could be an underlying cause of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
At Palo Alto High School, Ryan served as “build captain” for the robotics team and co-captain of the Technology Student Association TEAMS Competition club, which competes nationally. The son of Emily and Roger Lee, he is an Eagle Scout, a search-and-rescue responder with California Emergency Services and an award-winning photographer.
Beyond the Project
Co-captaining his school’s technology association, Ryan led his team to win Best in Nation at TEAMS: Tests of Engineering, Aptitude, Math, and Science, against 800 competitors.
FUN FACTS: During his training as a search and rescue responder, Ryan was forced to get lost: “Only after being lost can you understand the mindset of those you are searching for.”