"Even in elementary school, I knew that I would pursue a career in medicine," says Justin. He admits he probably felt some parental influence: His father is Dr. Richard Becker, a cardiologist. Hyperhomocysteinemia is a condition that few Americans know much about, even if they can pronounce it. The lack of awareness is mainly due to medicine's concentration on the usual risk factors for cardiovascular disease--cholesterol and blood pressure. But Justin says there's "a staggering correlation" between high levels of homocysteine (Hcy), an amino acid in the blood, and increased onset of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Although generally regarded as a blood vessel problem, Justin theorized that hyperhomocysteinemia might damage heart tissue, too. Using heart muscle from rats with elevated levels of Hcy, Justin found that excessive Hcy interferes with the function of nitric oxide (NO). That's serious because NO controls the heat's consumption of vital oxygen. He also pinned down how Hcy disrupts NO's job: It activates an enzyme called NADPH oxidase. Block that enzyme, and normal NO activity is restored. Justin's discovery is good news for his father, who has a mild case of hyperhomocysteinemia.


Justin S. Becker

Hudson High School
Montrose, N.Y.

Hobbies: Debate team captain, violin, tennis

Ambition: Medical research or physician