ELK GROVE (CBS13) – He’s only 17, but he’s already making big waves in the science community.

A local high school senior was selected as a semi-finalist in the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search. His research on stem cells set him apart from the rest. Out of hundreds of applicants, Ryan Fong, a senior at Sheldon High School in Elk Grove, is being recognized for his research in stem cells. It’s an opportunity he says he won’t soon forget.

“Each of these cells is genetic material from one cell,” he explains.

He doesn’t come from a line of doctors or medical researchers. Fong is just a teenager interested in stem cells.

“It’s such a young field and it holds so much potential to redefine what we think is medically possible,” he says.

Fong wasn’t always intrigued by science, but a couple of years ago, at the request of a teacher, he decided to enter the Teen Biotech Challenge and happened to win an internship at the UC Davis School of Medicine.

“I didn’t know anything about research and I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I dived in head first,” said Fong.

That internship became a launching pad for Fong. He was published in a medical peer review journal called Stem Cells. And this past summer, he spent his time in Stanford among doctors and researchers working on reprogramming cells from a layer of skin so that it can match any cell type in the body.

“So we’re taking someone’s cells from their skin and turning them into cells that can be found in the lungs,” said Fong.

Their research on the topic won Fong a spot as a semi-finalist in the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search, and a $1,000 scholarship.

“I definitely said a few prayers of thanks and everything because it was one of the greatest moments so far this year,” he said.

But Fong doesn’t expect their research to stop there. He hopes it’ll end up making a difference in the long run by changing people’s lives.

“In the long-term we would like to use these cells and explore the possibility of genetically engineering them. Correcting genetic defects and using them as transplants or something like that,” he said.

Fong’s award-winning research is also benefiting the school. It’ll be receiving a $1,000 award as well.

He plans on following his passion. His first step is getting a bachelor’s degree in science.

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