Student Spotlight: Alistair Lam ’23

Ashley Wang ’23 in News | April 1, 2022

Alistair Lam ’23’s neuro cancer research poster was recently selected for display at the 18th Multidisciplinary Meeting for Nervous System Diseases, also known as the BRAIN 2022 Conference. Organized by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the conference took place from February 24 to February 26 and aims to advance neurological science by promoting communication among medical professionals and researchers. 

Lam was among 30 people selected to present at the conference, after submitting his research abstract to the conference’s poster competition and undergoing an extensive vetting process. His paper “Gender Disparity in the Incidence of Childhood Central Nervous System Cancers among Different Asian Pacific Islander Populations,” will be displayed on the conference’s website throughout the next year. Lam’s paper focuses on incidences of brain cancer among Asian Pacific Islander youth across five different regions: Hong Kong, the United States, Thailand, Korea, and Japan. After comparing 10-year data trends between these five areas, Lam reached a key finding: male children have a significantly higher incidence of central nervous system tumors than female children. 

Although Lam’s interest in neuroscience began when he joined the Lawrenceville Medical League as a II former, the inspiration for this research paper originated from a deeper personal experience. After witnessing his father’s best friend survive a battle against brain cancer, Lam became motivated to further investigate the topic. Upon discovering the full extent of brain cancer’s impact on children and adolescents, he realized that the disease was a “much bigger deal than [he] previously thought,” which pushed him to formally delve into the subject and begin his research process. 

From there, he worked with a database that included other neuroscience-related studies and their findings. At the beginning of his research, Lam “was fortunate to…speak with a pediatrician and hear accounts of the experiences of children who suffer from rare nervous system diseases including brain tumors, [but] who lack…treatment and palliative care.” After speaking with the pediatrician, Lam aimed to expand his initial findings into a formal research project. Although this was largely an independent effort, Lam found mentorship and guidance from Lawrenceville faculty. Over the summer of 2021, he reached out to Director of Student Research Elizabeth Fox for her help with statistics and the logistics of writing a research paper. For the rest of 2021, Lam continued conducting his research and data analysis, drawing from his experience in the Hutchins Science Research program to complete a polished scientific paper. 

Lam also credits the support of Fox and Doug Piper for another achievement—his paper’s publication in The Journal of High School Science. Although he had never previously submitted a paper to a scientific journal, he received valuable advice from both teachers, especially in regards to the submission process. Lam found the peer-review process especially rewarding. “I received a lot of suggestions…from professionals in the field, and I made a lot of important edits, both on statistics, and data analysis [methods],” Lam said. 
Ultimately, Lam’s research paper helped him discover that “advances in medical and neurosciences alone cannot offer complete answers to medical problems; governmental policies and other socio-economic factors can greatly impact the incidence of childhood nervous system cancer.”

“[I’m] grateful that Lawrenceville and many other similar institutions are offering [its students] a holistic education so that [they] are equipped to become adept problem-solvers in the ever-changing world,” Lam concluded, “As a whole, conducting the research was a very humbling experience as it made me realize how little mankind knows about [the function] of our brains, which dictates everything we do.”