Young scientist on mission to find alternative to his own transplant
If Demetri Maxim has anything to say about it, he could be the solution to his own problem.
Demetri has PKD.
He’s also a prize-winning scientist, budding inventor and patent holder, Olympic ski team hopeful, avid cyclist and drummer. And oh, by the way, he’s 17 years old.
PKD doesn’t define Demetri, but it explains his single-minded focus on finding a cure. When he was 7 he watched his mother nearly die of the disease until she received a life-saving transplant. His great-grandfather died in his 60s from PKD.
As the great-great-great grandson of Sir Hiram Maxim, inventor of the first portable automatic machine gun and the captive flying machine amusement ride, it’s easy to see where Demetri got his intellectual curiosity.
“Hiram was certainly the ‘wow’ of the family,” Demetri said. “One of the things that I admire about him is that he stopped working on something if it continued to fail. He would always work through problems when he could, but he wasn’t afraid to give up and try something else if nothing was working. This has really helped me with my work and allowed me to discover things as fast as I have been.”
He started young. At 14 he sought a mentor and began laying plans to pursue a career in kidney disease research.
At 15 and 16 he landed summer research lab jobs at Tufts and Harvard universities. His work has paid off in numerous accolades, prizes and scholarships. He’s a two-time winner of the Maine State Science Fair where his projects focused on creating a device to non-invasively detect early stage kidney transplant rejection and a new method to grow kidney tissue from patient skin cells to eliminate the need for transplantation altogether. These days he’s focused on a different approach – finding a genetic therapy to prevent the disease through vaccination.
Outside the lab, he holds dual citizenships in the United States and Cyprus, and hopes to represent the Mediterranean country in the 2022 Winter Games.
Until recently, Demetri was silent about his diagnosis.
“I was originally hesitant to open up about my disease because I thought that it would influence some people’s perceptions of me, but recently I’ve started talking about it pretty openly because I want to connect with others who have the disease so we can work together to find a cure.”
He and his family have participated in PKD walks and he plans to get more involved in PKD Foundation chapter activities to meet others with the disease.
Graduate from high school next year, then pursue a medical degree or Ph.D. in college where he’ll continue his research work and keep skiing.
“My parents and most of my friends don’t understand how there are enough hours in the day to do the things that I do,” said Demetri, who avoids social media because of the time it takes away from his research. “I think taking the time to have fun and enjoy life is just as important as working hard in the lab.”
With any luck, his persistence will pay off before he needs a kidney transplant of his own.