If all goes as planned, Demetri Maxim will have figured out a way to grow a human kidney from skin cells by the time he is likely to need his own transplant.

Just 17 years old, the junior at Gould Academy in Bethel already has used skin cells to grow kidney tissue that functions in mice.

And his quest is winning national recognition.

Maxim’s project was named the best in the cellular and molecular biology category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh on Friday.

Maxim was one of 20 winners out of 1,700 students – selected from 422 fairs in more than 75 countries – to participate in the world’s largest high school science research competition.

The great-great-great-grandson of Hiram Maxim, the Sangerville native who invented the first portable machine gun and battled with Thomas Edison over the patent for the lightbulb, Demetri Maxim has won the Maine State Science Fair the past two years. Both projects were designed to help patients with kidney failure, the disease he saw his mother almost die from when he was 5 years old.


Polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that killed Maxim’s great-grandfather, forced his mother to get a kidney transplant and has him getting checkups every six months to make sure any developments are caught early.

It’s also inspired Maxim to devote his time to finding a solution, at least when he’s not pursuing his other goal: skiing in the Olympics.

A dual citizen of Cyprus and the United States, Maxim hopes to represent the Mediterranean country in the 2022 Winter Games. But after breaking his ankle this winter, he had more time for his scientific passion. And it paid off.

Maxim left Pittsburgh on Friday with nearly $10,000 in scholarships and cash from awards he received at the fair, as well as a trip to India.

“It was probably the best day of my life,” he said – the opposite of how he felt a year ago, when he came home from the Intel fair empty-handed.

Last year, Maxim developed a non-intrusive test that could determine whether a transplant patient was rejecting a new organ. The disappointment of not winning inspired him to go further.


Maxim is a day student at Gould, a private boarding school. His parents live in Bethel and in Lexington, Mass.

Working at Harvard Medical School, he spent last summer and then vacations and weekends during the school year – sometimes staying up all night – to grow functioning kidney tissue from patients’ skin cells. That would mean people needing kidney transplants could grow them from their own cells and not have to take the immunosuppression drugs that his mother will be on for the rest of her life.

He’s also investigating the possibility of using gene editing to ensure that the disease won’t attack the new kidney.

As far as he knows, he’s gone the furthest with that research, but he doesn’t have a great guess as to when he’ll be able to achieve the ultimate goal of a human transplant.

“I wish I knew so I could save my mom,” he said, but it will probably be at least another decade or two. Still, that’s likely long before he’ll need his own kidney transplant.

His mother, Lefki Michael-Maxim, said she told her son he should pursue whatever career makes him happiest.


“He shouldn’t feel responsible for me, as his parent,” she said.

But she couldn’t be prouder of his awards Friday or of his work on a deserving cause.

“He wants to help people and help himself in the process, and I’m very, very happy he’s doing that,” she said.

Maxim said some young scientists see a win at the international fair as their greatest achievement, but he says it’s just the start of his work.

He hopes to follow in the footsteps of his legendary ancestor. “He was the ‘wow’ of the family,” Maxim said.

Getting a patent in March for last year’s project was a first step.

Talking about what’s next, Maxim sounded more like a regular teenager than the groundbreaking scientist he’s become.

“I just want to keep doing cool stuff,” he said.


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