Andrew Ma is currently working on cancer detection research at the University of Arizona. He was named a Beckman Scholar earlier this year. Ma graduated from Desert Vista in 2009.

Andrew Ma is getting some real-world experience in doing undergraduate cancer research at the University of Arizona.

Ma, who graduated from Desert Vista High School in 2009, was named a Beckman Scholar earlier this year, an award which pays for him to do research this summer, during the upcoming school year and the following summer. In total, becoming a scholar grants him up to $19,300 for paid research.

Ma is currently working on a process to detect cancer through a specific marker, called DNA methylation, which gives the ability to see it by applying a particular protein (MBD1) to a split-protein reporter system. The system is designed to give more rapid results and is less likely to return false-positive results.

"The idea is to improve early detection and accuracy because that is what both doctors and patients want," Ma, 20, said. "My favorite part about the research that I am doing is that it is like I get to work behind the scenes in a medical office, and how exactly science is applied in medicine."

Throughout the summer Ma was working full time with the Indraneel Ghosh Research Group alongside a graduate student and a post-doctoral student. He started his current research during his freshman year when he was working under a student who is now working on a doctoral program at Harvard.

"I kind of picked up where he left off last year," Ma said. "It was unique because at the time the student I was working with was also an under grad. The professor trusted him a lot because he was doing a lot of impressive work."

He had to overcome several hurdles to apply for and then become a Beckman Scholar. Ma first had to write a proposal just to be considered as an applicant from the University of Arizona because the Beckman Scholars only allow a certain number from applicants of 10 total universities. Once he was accepted as the college's applicant, he then had to write another proposal for the actual scholarship.

"My proposal to the foundation was about how I was working on something to detect cancer through DNA diagnostic projects," Ma said.

In August, before the start of the semester, he will travel to the Beckman Foundation's headquarters in Irvine, Calif., to meet with fellow scholars and alumni and speak about their current research.

"Listening to others and talking about my own research is one of my favorite parts about working in science," Ma said.

He is in the Undergraduate Biology Research Program at the University of Arizona and is entering his junior year in the fall. Ma hopes to get into medical school after he graduates. Until then, he plans to continue his current research until his projected graduation in May 2013.

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