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Innovator Peiyan Duan

Diabetes Discovery Leads to Top Honor

Grandfather's diabetes inspires young talent

Peiyan Duan always dreamed of finding a way to help her grandfather in his struggle with diabetes. "Since I was a little kid, I have wanted to invent some kind of magic drug and make him feel better,” says the high school senior from Shanghai.

Her grandfather’s plight motivated her to successfully identify an active compound in the herb foxglove and demonstrate its anti-diabetic effect.

Duan’s research won her the Intel Young Talent Award in China in 2011. She was then selected as a finalist in the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), a program of Society for Science & the Public, where she won the first place Grand Award for Biochemistry and second place in the American Physiological Society category.

Foxglove tea

While visiting her grandfather one summer she noticed him sipping tea made from foxglove. She later discovered that foxglove had a strong anti-diabetic effect. After trying unsuccessfully to isolate the herb’s active compounds in the lab, she grew frustrated. She then learned how to use a technique used in drug research called computer docking to identify a potentially active compound in foxglove. Duan later used a biological experiment to successfully demonstrate the identified compound’s anti-diabetic effect.

"Through ISEF, I have a chance to interact with kids from all over the world," says Duan, 18. "We share our projects and our thoughts towards science."