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Vietnamese girl, 19, talks passion for cancer treatment research

Wednesday, March 20, 2019, 10:28 GMT+7
Vietnamese girl, 19, talks passion for cancer treatment research
Nguyen Phuong Thao. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre

A Vietnamese college student who ranked first in the 2018 International Biology Olympia has revealed to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper her ambition and how to maintain a balanced life for more productive study hours.

As a biology student of the honors program at the Hanoi University of Science – one of Vietnam’s leading higher-education institutions – Nguyen Phuong Thao is known for her shining performance at the International Biology Olympia held in Iran last year.

The 19-year-old brought home a gold after she scored 98.13/100, the best result recorded at the competition.

“When my name was called at the same time with pictures of me and the Vietnamese flag being displayed on the screen, I felt both happy and proud as I was able to do something for my motherland, although it was just a minor contribution,” Thao said, referring to the large screen inside the result-announcing hall of the contest.

Nguyen Phuong Thao (third from left) poses for a picture with the Vietnamese contingency for the 2018 International Biology Olympia in Iran, in this photo she provided.
Nguyen Phuong Thao (third from left) poses for a picture with the Vietnamese contingency for the 2018 International Biology Olympia in Iran, in this photo she provided.

She has long nurtured a love for biology and said memories about the physical agony from cancer her late grandmother had suffered for five years spurred her on to make greater academic efforts.

“It’s impossible for me to forget it,” she said.

“I thought of her sufferings as a motivation when I felt discouraged and weary.”

She is learning more about cancer in the hope of finding an effective alternative treatment to cancer.

“I don’t expect to achieve something great to win a Nobel Prize, which is a thing of the future,” she said.

“But studying cancer can at least enable me to help my family and other people.”

Nguyen Phuong Thao by a table. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Phuong Thao by a table. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre

She said the current cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery but several types of cancer such as leukemia are not amenable to the last treatment.

She described chemotherapy and radiotherapy metaphorically as a catch-and-run solution in which cancerous cells have evolved, or “run a long distance,” well before people can contain, or “catch” them.

“A new approach I like is immunotherapy,” she said.

“It’s like ‘training’ cells of the immune system to work more effectively and influence cancer-causing cells.”

Believing this should be a breakthrough in cancer treatment, she has figured out a plan to study it and is hoping to find like-minded people.

Thao often arrives at the university in the morning to attend classes and read biological research papers.

She may stay in the library or meet a guitar club and do gymnastics during the rest of the day.

Nguyen Phuong Thao poses with her potted Mexican snowballs at her dorm room in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Phuong Thao poses with her potted Mexican snowballs at her dorm room in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre

She leads a balanced lifestyle by enjoying music, playing the guitar or watch Facebook newsfeed after every two hours of learning by the table; and taking a walk or do something she likes from 10:00 to 11:00 pm every night.

She values self-study and group learning, saying that in the latter members can complement each other for a fruitful discussion.

On her learning table at the dormitory are potted dainty cacti and Mexican snow balls, which she intends to be given together with books as birthday gifts to friends and relatives.

“Growing the plants is very simple. But when it becomes a present, both the giver and recipient are happy,” she said.

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