A 12-year-old boy is being praised for his award-winning science fair project that explored cancer-fighting chemicals in green tea.
Stephen Litt, who lives outside of Atlanta, was inspired to do the project after two family friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, his father, Lesley Litt, tells PEOPLE. He began reading about the illness and learned of the antioxidants in green tea.
“He started doing some reading on breast cancer and then he was reading about Japanese food and green tea - because we like that a lot,” Litt says. “Somehow he found an article in doing searches on how Japanese people have less cancer then Americans. So he kept reading and reading and eventually came upon a whole bunch of research papers ... on how planarian worms are used to study cancer.”
He added: “What he did that no one else has ever done was hone in on a groups of chemicals in green tea ... he exposed these worms to the green tea chemical.”
Stephen and his dad built a makeshift lab in their home, purchasing materials online, and conducted a month-long experiment using 100 worms, CNN reported. He divided the worms into four groups to test his hypothesis that the polyphenol in green tea could hinder tumor growth in worms exposed to carcinogens.
He found that the worms exposed to both the carcinogens and the phytochemical found in green tea didn’t grow tumors, Litt says.
The project gained state attention and officials at a Tufts University research lab were more than willing to welcome the boy and his family for a spring break visit.
“I’d never actually been to a professional lab before so I thought that was just the most cool part about it because I was actually in a lab,” Stephen told ABC News. “I was looking at experiments actually being done.”
Litt gushed about his son’s accomplishments, telling PEOPLE that Stephen has won several awards for the project.
“We’re so proud of him. He’s only 12. He’s in seventh grade,” Litt says. “Otherwise, he’s a normal kid. We’re proud of him because he’s already exceeded the level of middle school.”
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Stephen told ABC that he hopes to continue his research.
“I don’t know how to describe it. It just feels good,” he told the outlet. “I’m doing something important. I’m doing something that is scientific and I’m doing something that could potentially help people.”
When he’s not conducting groundbreaking experiments, Stephen is busy practicing karate, playing the oboe, being a Boy Scout, playing tennis and video games, Litt tells PEOPLE.
“He doesn’t want to let go of any of it,” Litt says of his son’s activities. “He really loves doing all of these things.”