Aug. 13, 2014

Victoria Sajtovich,  HYRS 2014, U/A
Victoria Sajtovich, HYRS 2014, U/A

(Edmonton, Alberta)  August 13, 2014… This summer, grade 11 student, Victoria Sajtovich has been working in a genetics lab looking to better understand how loss of some proteins can lead to cancer of the brain and spinal cord. Victoria is a student in the 2014 Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program at the University of Alberta. She is one of 22 Grade 11 students chosen to participate in the six‐week HYRS program, providing hands‐on health research experiences in laboratories and clinics at the University of Alberta.

Victoria is working in the laboratory of Dr. Sarah Hughes, an Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Genetics, within the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta. Dr. Hughes’ research focuses on understanding merlin, a type of protein that suppresses tumors. She is looking at its application as it relates to inherited brain or spinal cord cancers. Victoria has been working with the genetic model organism Drosophila melanogaster, otherwise known as the common fruit fly, to identify and characterize partners of Merlin to understand its function.

“This summer has been an absolutely amazing experience,” says Sajtovich who is going into Grade 12 at Grande Prairie Composite High School this September. “I’m participating in groundbreaking research that will allow us to better understand the function of the protein Merlin.” Her project is funded by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS).

“I would like to get my PhD in Genomics and Biophysics,” says Sajtovich. “Being a part of this research project has only heightened my understanding of the importance of genetic research to every facet of medicine. Understanding health problems at the subcellular level is the first step to developing better solutions, particularly for diseases as complex and traumatic as cancer.”

“The HYRS program opens up medical and health research to young Albertans and their teachers,” saysAlberta Innovates – Health Solutions CEO and President, Cy Frank, MD. “By successfully mentoring young people like Victoria, we foster and encourage their understanding of research, which will ultimately help to build the next generation of health research leaders in our province.”




For information about Sarah Hughes research, visit:

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

This year, the HYRS program received 211 applications from Grade 11 students in 76 schools across Alberta. An adjudication committee of high school teachers from St. Albert, Lethbridge, Edmonton and Calgary, and two scientists from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary selected 50 students. Eleven of the HYRS students are from towns and rural communities across Alberta. The Alberta Cancer Foundation is funding five spots – two each at the U of A, the U of C and one at 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 biology 20 and mathematics 20, as well as 85% in an additional science.  They also need two teacher references, a community reference, and to 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:

For more information about HYRS: Danica Wolkow, HYRS Provincial Coordinator,

1.877.423.5727 x237,

Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions supports research and innovation activities to improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans and create health related social and economic benefits for Albertans. AIHS provides leadership for Alberta’s health research and innovation enterprise by directing, coordinating, reviewing, funding and supporting research and innovation. For more information see:

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