Andy Le and Nikola Victorov, Grade 11 students at Edmonton’s Old Scona Academic High School, focused on just such a process.
Says Andy: “We were looking at cell death and how a specific protein (called ‘JunB’), which is present in several lymphoma cancers, can be cut or ‘cleaved’ by a group of enzymes called caspases.”
Mentored by Dr. Robert Ingham of the University of Alberta’s Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and based on a technology developed by UofA colleagues, the students created a probe that could be used as a surrogate to measure JunB cleavage. The probe was designed to fluoresce red when intact, but lose fluorescence when the caspases enzymes did their work.Though many steps away, the work lights a potential way to develop drugs that more effectively target diseased cells.
“One major benefit from our approach is that can be used to detect changes in live cells as well as having the potential to be used in a variety of cells,” says Nikola.
The teens have been approached by other faculty members at the University of Alberta interested in collaborating and using this method in related research areas.
“Nikola and I are both pretty good and science,” says Andy, whose sister, Connie Le, was part of a team that won the 2009 regional Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge in Edmonton and inspired his entry this year.
“Nikola and I spent 11 or 12 hours a week on the project beginning last November. Our goal was to develop and easier way to detect when cell death has taken place,” he adds. “We’re happy that our hard work paid off.”