Research is winner's cup of tea

Research is winner's cup of tea

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wai yee man
One student discovers the benefit of oolong tea to cancer patients and picks up several awards, writes Wong Yat-hei

When Form Four student Clara Lee On-ki's grandmother died of cancer six years ago, she decided that one day she would do something to the stop the killer disease.

Now Clara, a student at Shun Tak Fraternal Association Yung Yau College in Tin Shui Wai, has won several awards in the Hong Kong Youth Science and Technology Invention Competition, with her discovery that oolong tea can suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells.

Clara's research won her the Individual Researcher Award, the Best Project Award and Intel ISEF The Society for In Vitro Biology Award. She also has the chance to represent Hong Kong at the upcoming Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2010, to be held in the United States next month.

She says her grandmother raised her because both her parents were busy working.

'We were extremely close ... and her death inspired me to do research on cancer and to become a doctor. I hope that through my research others will not have to suffer the pain of losing their loved ones to cancer like I did.'

Clara's father is a big fan of Chinese tea, and from him she learned that tea is good for health in various ways.

'I started off my research on tea because it's a popular and healthy drink. I started studying antioxidants in tea last year, and I found that oolong has more antioxidants than other teas, such as green tea and jasmine,' she says.

'Then I moved on to more in-depth research on the relationship between tea and cancer with support from City University's department of biology and chemistry.'

The research began in December at City University's laboratory. Clara found that the concentration of polyphenol in oolong tea is 0.25 milligram per millilitre and it can slow down prostate cancer cell activity by 10 per cent.

Her success was built on hard work and the guidance of Dr Cheung Hon-yeung, the department's associate professor.

'Dr Cheung has been a fantastic mentor to me. I gained scientific knowledge and learned life lessons from him. He was always keen to answer my questions and give me tips. His taught me to never give up and never back down from failures,' Clara says.

She says Cheung also taught her to look at problems from different angles to solve them.

'There is no excuse for giving up. Whatever gets in my way has to be overcome. This is the right attitude towards scientific research,' she says.

Clara recalls that Cheung worked with her even during the Lunar New Year holidays.

Cheung describes Clara's work as 'extraordinary for a secondary student', adding that she had mastered techniques that even some of his university students found challenging.

'I'm really impressed with her passion for science. I hope she can contribute to world health.'

Clara's achievements have led to comparisons with Chan Yik-hei, a young local scientist who has an asteroid (20780 Chanyikhei) named after him. But Clara thinks she has a long way to go.

'I am definitely not as good as he is. He's someone I look up to. He's an inspiration to me,' she says.

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