Aug. 10, 2012

(Edmonton, Alberta) August 10, 2012…“Working in a university lab has been amazing. I get to do experiments every day, work with fantastic people, and use million dollar equipment!” exclaims Asha Lal, one of 22 grade 11 students participating in the 2012 Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program at the University of Alberta.

“I really wanted to spend my summer doing something that would make a difference. The people I’m working with and the project I’m working on could literally change the world,” says Lal, a student from McNally High School in Edmonton. Her HYRS experience is funded by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) and the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

Lal is working in the laboratory of Maya Shmulevitz, Assistant Professor in the department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. Her team investigates the role mammalian orthoreovirus, or reovirus, plays in cancer genetics.

While some viruses are harmful, others are safe and innovative tools that selectively kill cancer cells. Reovirus replicates poorly in healthy cells, but very well in cancer cells. Asha’s summer project has involved genetically engineering cells which will allow researchers to insert different gene combinations to create modified strains of reovirus. These “designer viruses” can fluoresce green, and display increased cancer cell-killing activity. The goal is to better understand how the virus works, and ultimately make it more effective at killing cancer cells.

“Before entering HYRS, I was very unsure about what I wanted to pursue as a career. After HYRS, I am very interested in pursuing research in the field of oncology,” says Lal.

“The HYRS program opens up the world of medical research to young Albertans,” says Alberta innovates – Health Solutions CEO Jacques Magnan, PhD. “By successfully mentoring young people like Asha, we accelerate their understanding of and exposure to research, and we help build the next generation of health leaders in our province.”

Background

Read more about Maya Shmulevitz’s research team and her lab.

Province-wide, there are 50 HYRS students working this summer at the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge.

This year, the HYRS program received 225 applications from Grade 11 students across the province. An adjudication committee of high school teachers and scientists selected the 50 successful students. The Alberta Cancer Foundation is funding 5 spots – two at the University of Alberta, two at the University of Calgary and one at the University of Lethbridge.

HYRS participants receive a grant to work on research projects supervised by AIHS and university research mentors. The HYRS program hosts guest lecturers, poster sessions, field trips and an open house where HYRS participants spend a day sharing what they have learned with their high school science teachers. AIHS also offers a free week-long camp, the FYSci camp, to 40 high school students, and free teachers’ workshops.

Students who apply to HYRS are required to have at least an 85% average in two sciences and math. They also must submit an essay about why health research interests them, two teacher references and a community reference.

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