Aug. 14, 2013

(Edmonton, Alberta) August 14, 2013… “A university lab is so different from a high school lab,” says Kaitlin Wong, one of 22 Grade 11 students participating in the 2013 Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program at the University of Alberta. “They threw me right into the research and I had to learn as I went, which has been incredible… and their pipettes are so much better!”

Wong is working in the laboratory of Andrew Simmonds, associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Alberta. Simmonds’ research uses a combination of live-cell imaging, fruit-fly genetics, cell-culture and molecular biology, to study the processes that occur within the cell to regulate, form and store the genetic code in each of our cells. Dr. Simmonds’ research is funded by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS), as is Kaitlin Wong’s HYRS experience.

“I’ve come to realize that research is a process,” says Wong who is going into Grade 12 at Harry Ainlay High School in Edmonton this September. “You may start with one question, but sometimes what goes wrong in an experiment creates a whole other group of important questions that you didn’t think about the first time.” Wong’s project is looking at how genes interact with each other and regulate muscle formation in the embryo, with the hope of better understanding birth defects in children.

Understanding the role of cell protein complexes in the formation of specific muscle cells in the embryo is just one of the projects happening in Dr. Simmonds’ lab. By studying the genetic processes that occur within the cell, Dr. Simmonds and his team hope to gain a greater understanding of how cells differentiate and grow into tissues, and ultimately understand more about genetic disease and birth defects.

“After watching my grandmother and aunt struggle with the effects of stroke, I thought I wanted to work in the medical field in cardiology,” says Wong. “After this summer I’ve realized I could really make a difference by going into research, maybe in the field of biomedical engineering, and help create new treatments for heart and stroke patients.”

“The HYRS program opens up medical and health research to young Albertans and their teachers,” says Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions CEO and President, Cy Frank, PhD, MD. “By successfully mentoring young people like Kaitlin we accelerate their understanding of and exposure to research, and we help build the next generation of health leaders in our province.”


For information about Andrew Simmonds’ work go to:

Province-wide there are 49 students working this summer at the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, and University of Lethbridge.

This year, the HYRS program received 195 applications from Grade 11 students in 83 schools across Alberta. An adjudication committee of high school teachers from St. Albert, Lethbridge, Edmonton and Calgary, and faculty members from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary selected 49 students. Fifteen of the HYRS students are from towns and rural communities across Alberta. The Alberta Cancer Foundation is funding six spots – two each at the U of A, the U of C and the U of L.

HYRS participants receive a stipend through Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) to work on research projects supervised and mentored by university researchers. HYRS programing includes hands-on research time in the lab, plus guest lectures, professional development sessions, and tours of research facilities. Participants produce a scientific poster which they share with their referring teachers, mentors, lab colleagues, and family at the HYRS Final Celebration and Poster Presentation held on the last day of the program on each campus.

Students who apply to HYRS are required to have at least an 85% average in core science subjects, two teacher references, a community reference, and write an essay about an aspect of health research that interests them and why they want to be part of the HYRS program.

In addition to the HYRS program, AIHS also offers other Education and Community Outreach programs, including a free week-long camp, called FYSci camp, to 40 high school students, and free teachers’ workshops. For more information on all AIHS outreach programs visit:

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