Julia Shatalov ’21 wins award at Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair

April 7, 2020

Julia Shatalov ’21 was the recipient of a special award at this year’s Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair a statewide competition open to students in seventh through 12th grade from throughout Connecticut and Fishers Island. 


For her project “Quantitative Molecular Imaging of Brain Tumors Using Positron Emission Tomography (PET),” Shatalov received the Naval Science Award, presented by the Office of Naval Research – U.S. Navy / U.S. Marine Corps. 


Shatalov’s abstract compared PET scans to MRI scans, identifying the strengths and weaknesses both examinations have when evaluating tumor recurrences in patients who have undergone surgery and radiation treatment. She admitted that she did not expect to receive an award, given the strong competition from her peers. 


“If you read all the other kids’ abstracts, there are some really, really high-level projects that are interesting and pretty cool,” reflected Shatalov. “To get some type of recognition—it felt really good.” 


Shatalov has had a longtime interest in studying brain tumors and molecular imaging. Recognizing her passion, her mother, who works in the clinical research field, connected her last fall with Dr. Mariam Aboian, a neuroradiologist with the Yale University School of Medicine. While studying under AboianShatalov was introduced to the fair. 


“The brain is one of those things people don’t know very much about,” Shatalov said. “It’s like this whole huge mystery. It just got me very curious.” 


Originally, I was doing research … about using PET scans and MRI scans to try to analyze and evaluate tumors,” Shatalov continued. “Dr. Aboian told me about the fair, and that got me interested (in submitting an abstract).” 


Shatalov began to study the benefits of PET scans versus an MRI. What she found was that PET scans more accurately evaluate tumor recurrences after surgery and radiation treatment. However, MRI scans have their place, she believes. 


“The conclusion that I drew after all of this is that PET scans definitely give you the clearer picture, but both the PET and MRI scans each have their own advantages and disadvantages,” she said. “The best way, I think, is to use them both in combination.” 


MRIs prove more valuable and reliable when trying to receive a visual representation of the area of concern. PET scans, on the other hand, provide more quantitative values for studies, according to Shatalov. 


“Using FDG (fluorodeoxyglucose, a type of tracer) PET, we were able to accurately predict tumor recurrence, while MRI provided us an anatomic map of where to look for recurrent cancer,” Shatalov wrote, as part of her abstract. “In conclusion, the use of PET and MRI in combination allows for increased accuracy in predicting tumor recurrence after surgery and radiation therapy by combining information from anatomical and quantitative sequences.” 


Due to the coronavirus, the fair scheduled to be held on March 9-14 at Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Connecticut) was canceled. Judging was completed online after submissions were filed. Finalists then presented remotely before a panel of judges. 


With the competition behind her, Shatalov continues to work with Aboian, deepening their studies on the topic. 


“We’re continuing to do more research going forward, to go more in depth now,” she said.