Viraj Mehta Ethan Wilk

Two Scottsdale teens were recently honored by the 2020 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, a national award that celebrates inspiring, public-spirited young people from across the U.S. and Canada.

BASIS Scottsdale student Viraj Mehta, 17, was named a winner; and BASIS Scottsdale student Ethan Wilk, 17, was named an honoree.

Annually, the Barron Prize honors 25 outstanding young leaders ages 8 to 18, including 15 winners and 10 honorees, all of whom are described as young leaders who have made a “significant positive difference to people and the environment.”

The 15 top winners each received $10,000 to support their service work or higher education. 

For Viraj, that includes developing technologies for the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancers.

 Viraj started Precision Medicine Initiatives four years ago after losing his grandfather to cancer diagnosed at a late stage. He created three projects to increase survival rates via artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Those projects include OncoVision, which helps people in medically underserved areas screen themselves for cancer; GLIA-Deep, a web app that allows clinicians to upload a patient’s MRI scan and, within seconds, receive an assessment of their genetics along with patient-specific drug recommendations; and MIRTK, a web platform that recommends personalized therapeutic treatments for cancers based on molecular analyses.

Viraj’s projects have been well-received, too.

Mayo Clinic validated GLIA-Deep and is working on testing it in a clinical setting.

Viraj also won numerous awards for his work and was invited to speak at international neuro-oncology conferences.

“My journey with this work has allowed me to help people around the world and to accomplish things I didn’t think were possible,” Viraj said. “It has also taught me the importance of being grateful and has allowed me to honor my grandfather by spreading compassion in his name.”

Ethan founded the Xenia Project, a nonprofit that works to protect endangered marine species with novel blockchain technology.

For two years, Ethan and his team used blockchain-based tracking chips to tag more than 1,000 endangered fish.

The chip attaches to fish harmlessly and records their swimming patterns more accurately than any standard tracking chip.

This in turn allows Ethan and his team to determine what’s driving high extinction rates in the area. 

Ethan originally outlined his concept for a blockchain-based tracking chip in the ninth grade by drafting a research paper that allowed him to materialize the idea with a professor at Arizona State University.

He has forged partnerships with other organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund. 

Ethan also arranged community fundraisers and inspired more than 500 volunteers to join his cause and now hopes to expand his work overseas to Australia.

“My journey to conserve marine life has been long, and it’s been challenging,” Ethan said. “For the first time in my life, I’ve begun to embrace the saying that nothing is impossible when one tests their limits.”

Founded by author T. A. Barron and named for his mother, Gloria Barron, the Barron Prize winners and honorees are described as “young heroes” who “demonstrate heroic character qualities like courage, compassion and perseverance as they work to help their communities or protect the planet.”

“Nothing is more inspiring than stories about heroic people who have truly made a difference to the world,” T. A. Barron said in a prepared statement. 

“And we need our heroes today more than ever. Not celebrities, but heroes – people whose character can inspire us all. That is the purpose of the Barron Prize: to shine the spotlight on these amazing young people so that their stories will inspire others.”

Information: thexeniaproject.org, precisionmedicineinitiatives.weebly.com, barronprize.org