Through their research, Gita and Priya Multani (12) have developed a capture mechanism that aids in the early detection of ovarian cancer. The mechanism works by identifying a specific protein released in the early stages of ovarian cancer from patient blood samples. Although the project is still in its experimental phase, any form of early detection in ovarian cancer research would be a medical breakthrough as there is no existing early detection method. While the twins are probably not the first sisters to collaborate on important research, what makes them remarkable is the Multani twins are only high school seniors.
“If the protein is present, then you can guarantee or highly guarantee that they have ovarian cancer, and if it’s not then the patient is cancer-free,” Priya said.
The two have been recognized for their accomplishments locally and nationally. The Multanis recently returned from an Ovarian Cancer Conference in Seattle, where they presented a poster on their research and had attended presentations by prominent medical researchers. The twins plan to attend conferences similar to the Seattle meeting, potentially including a large cancer conference in April 2017 that they would attend with their father.
Gita and Priya were the guests of honor at the first ovarian cancer walk in San Diego on Sept. 18, were featured on San Diego CW 6 news in June, and have been invited by the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance to attend their 2017 gala.
The research has always been personal; Gita was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the second semester of their freshman year. After going in for a surgery to remove a presumably benign cyst, both her doctors and her family were “shocked “to find that the cyst was partly malignant.
“For the first two years, I didn’t tell anyone [about my cancer] except my two close friends and my family,” Gita said. “It was definitely nerve-racking to think about how people would respond, [but everything turned out well].”
The twins have always had an interest in cancer research, even prior to Gita’s diagnosis; their father is a medical oncologist. Gita’s diagnosis only helped reinforce and narrow their interest in the topic.
“We started [research] after I was in remission. We always knew we wanted to do research, but we didn’t know in what particular field or what project we wanted to pursue until after and then that just kind of jump started everything,” Gita said.
Initially, Priya and Gita had difficulty finding a lab that would accept them, sending more than 50 proposals to universities in and out of California. After receiving about 10 responses, they chose to conduct their research at University of California, San Diego under the mentorship of bioengineering and mechanical engineering professor Ratneshwar Lal, primarily due to its convenient location.
“In high school, you learn things and you ask things but there is already an answer,” Priya said. “Research is very collaborative and there’s a good support system… one [piece] of the advice that [Professor Lal] gives us is to do research you have to think like a Ph.D. student.”
Lal works with other high school students frequently and designs his projects specifically with them and their interests in mind.
“[Our] initial proposal was broad. It involved detecting ovarian cancer early using a biomarker. The idea became more developed as we read papers and talked with Professor Lal,” Gita said.
Lal stated that he values research and even “encourages every student to have their own projects.
“[Research] is very accessible for high school students, you can do it,” Priya said. “Even though you have a young mind, you’re capable of a lot. You can do research; it’s not like some big thing that’s so far away you need college and graduate degrees to do it. You can do it right now if you put your mind to it.”
When they are not at school or at the lab, the twins spend their time teaching senior citizens how to use laptops and other electronics and also plan to return to the TPHS track and field team again this year, after skipping participation in their junior year.
The research has proven to be difficult thus far, but the twins have already achieved success and are already looking to what the future holds for them.
“We’re hoping to go to the same college, but that all depends on where we get in,” Gita said. “We’re hoping that most people won’t split us up just because everything we do is mostly together.”
Priya and Gita plan to continue their research together at a four-year university as bioengineering majors when they leave TPHS. They are currently considering schools that “offer a lot of research programs.”
“I have no doubt [that the twins will succeed in the future]. They are most dedicated, they are most driven, and they are smart. These are the three things you need,” Lal said.