Toronto, ON, April 20, 2012 – Innovative research by two 17-year-old Toronto students that could lead to better treatment of depression and anxiety has earned the top prize in the Greater Toronto Area competition of the “2012 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC)”, a biotechnology research competition that encourages students to pursue future studies and careers in the exciting field of biotechnology.
Held at the MaRS Discovery District, the SBCC Awards ceremony was attended by over 150 students, and representatives from industry, government and education. Emceed by Dr. Gavin Clark, University of Toronto (retired), award presenters included senior representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, MaRs Discovery District, Life Sciences Ontario, Ryerson University, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology, York University, University of Toronto, and Sanofi Pasteur Limited.
Donna Cansfield, Parliamentary Assistant, Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation was the guest speaker. “The innovative work of the young people here tonight, and at the two other Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competitions in Southwestern and Eastern Ontario, is an inspiration to everyone working for a better economic future for this province,” said Ms. Cansfield. “I would like to congratulate all of the students and encourage them to pursue their passion for science and making the world a better place for us all.”
First place award of $2,500 went to GTA Grade 12 students Alexander Tigert and Zelun (Daniel) Zhang of Northern Secondary School, who were mentored by Dr. Corey Nislow and Dr. Marinella Gebbia at the University of Toronto. The duo won the top regional prize with a novel way of testing the positive effects of drugs that target one of the brain’s dopamine receptors, which are related to many neurological processes including motivation, pleasure, cognition, memory and learning. The students created a genetically-modified yeast that expresses the human type D2 dopamine receptor, offering a new way to measure the effectiveness of current and new drugs to treat neurological conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Mark Lievonen, president of Sanofi Pasteur Limited, presented the first place award. “The students in this competition represent some of the brightest young scientists in Canada and I congratulate them all on their outstanding achievements,” said Mr. Lievonen. “Through this program, we are investing in the future, celebrating excellence and creating a critical mass of biotechnology talent in Canada.”
The Commercialization Award of $1,000 was given to Varsha Jayasankar, 15, of Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in Hamilton. Varsha extracted and confirmed the efficacy of an anti-microbial compound from a species of wild ginger that has potential as an “eco-friendly” pesticide. A provisional patent has been filed for this work. Varsha worked with mentors Dr. Jay Subramanian at the University of Guelph and Dr. Edward Sternin at Brock University.
Other award winners included:
Second prize: Bayview Secondary School in Markham student Howard Feng, 16, received the second place prize of $2,000 for using bio-informatics to identify specific genetic mutations in the proteins of an enzyme that prevents Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). This information could lead to priority candidates in future studies of therapies for IBD. Howard worked with mentor Boyko Kabakchiev at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital.
Third prize: Third prize of $1,500 went to Amanda Fantin, 17, of Toronto whose research investigated the early stages of the differentiation of stem cells toward becoming mature, insulin-producing pancreatic Islet cells. The development of islet cells from stem cells could serve as possible treatment for type1 diabetes. Amanda’s mentors were Dr. Ian Rogers and Jennifer Whiteley at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital.
Fourth prize: Fourth prize of $1,250 was awarded to Stephanie Gaglione, 17, of St. Robert Catholic High School in Markham for her research on the possibility of a unique insulin-controlled mechanism that regulates human cholesterol levels. This information could be used to identify a drug target for reducing human cholesterol levels resulting from insulin resistance. Stephanie worked with mentors Dr. Khosrow Adeli, Sahar Ansari and Rianna Zhang at The Hospital for Sick Children. Stephanie also won the $500 award for the best project from a new school in the competition.
Fifth prize: Michael Phan, 17, and Geoffrey Williams, 17, of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga took the $1,000 fifth prize for showing that two compounds extracted from the root of the Devil’s Club plant (Oplopanax horridus) exhibited anti-cancer properties that proved to be effective against all seven lines of cancer cells that they tested. The students’ mentors were Dr. Rima Al-awar, Dr. Richard Marcellus and Dr. Carly Griffin at the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research Institute, University Health Network.
“Over the past 19 years, we have helped more than 4,000 Canadian youth bring their passion, creativity and scientific ideas to life,” said Rick Levick, Executive Director, Bioscience Education Canada. “The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada is unique because it partners participating students with mentors who have access to quality lab equipment and supplies. With the help of our community and sponsors across this country, we are creating a vital talent pool in Canada’s growing and important biotechnology sector.”
This year’s Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada will see students compete in nine regional competitions throughout April. The regional winners, including Alexander Tigert and Zelun (Daniel) Zhang from Toronto, will participate in the national competition at the National Research Council in, Ottawa on May 7. The winners will be announced at 1 pm EDT Tuesday May 8. The first and second place winners of the national Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition will advance to the International BioGENEius Challenge held in Boston, MA on June 18, 2012, in conjunction with the BIO Annual International Convention. This year, more than 240 high school and CEGEP students across Canada have submitted 192 projects.
About the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC)
The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) is a national, biotechnology research competition that encourages high school and CEGEP students to pursue future studies and careers in the exciting field of biotechnology. Coordinated by Bioscience Education Canada since its beginning in 1994, the initiative is sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur Limited, Sanofi Canada, Genome Canada, the National Research Council Canada (NRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Government of Canada’s Youth Awareness Program.
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