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Posted: Apr 09, 2013
Student, 16, progresses experimental way to kill cancer with gold nano 'bullets', marvels experts
(Nanowerk News) Cutting edge research into an experimental therapy that deploys nano-particles of gold in the fight against cancer earned an Alberta high school student, 16, top national honours today in the 2013 "Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada" (SBCC).
Arjun Nair, 16, a grade 11 Calgary student, won the top $5,000 prize in the 2013 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada.India-born Arjun Nair, 16, a Grade 11 student at Webber Academy, Calgary, was awarded the top prize of $5,000 by a panel of eminent Canadian scientists assembled at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).
His research project, mentored at the University of Calgary, advances an experimental cancer "photothermal therapy" which involves injecting a patient with gold nanoparticles. The particles accumulate in tumours, forming so-called "nano-bullets" that can be heated to kill cancer cells.
Arjun showed how an antibiotic may overcome the cancer's defences and make the promising treatment more effective. Arjun's research, which a panel of expert judges led by Luis Barreto, MD, called "world class Masters or PhD-level quality," also won a special $1,000 prize awarded to the project with the greatest commercial potential. (See full project description below, and online at http://bit.ly/12i4QIP)
Eleven brilliant students from nine Canadian regions, all just 16 to 18 years old, took part in the national finals. They had placed 1st at earlier regional SBCC competitions, conducted between March 21 and April 4.
Celebrating 20 years of inspiring young scientists in Canada, this year's SBCC involved a total of 208 high school students collaborating on 123 projects, all mentored in professional labs over several months and submitted via the regional competitions.
Since its beginning in Toronto in 1994, some 4,500 young Canadians have competed in the SBCC, an event that has inspired sister BioGENEius competitions in the USA and Australia.
Aiming to create an effective cancer-killing nano-bullet made of gold
Helping science develop a nano-bullet to defeat cancer is the futuristic vision of Arjun Nair, a 16-year-old Calgary high school student.
These "bullets" are formed by gold nanoparticles that, when injected into a patient, accumulate in cancerous tumours. Using light, the gold nanoparticles rapidly heat up in the tumours, killing only the cancer cells. Known as photothermal therapy (PTT), the idea has shown promise but isn't that effective because cancer cells fight back, producing heat-shock proteins to protect themselves.
Arjun looked into the use of an antibiotic (17-AAG) to defeat cancer's defence.
Nanoparticles are less than millionth of the size of grain of sand, making them pretty difficult to make and work with, says Arjun. He spent the last two years working on his idea, including the past year between Simon Trudel's and David Cramb's Nanoscience Labs at the University of Calgary.
It's rare for a high-tech lab to allow a high school student to work with its expensive equipment but Dr. Cramb, Dr. Simon Trudel and Lab Manager, Amy Tekrony provided access and all important mentorship, he says.
"Proof-of-concepts were developed and tested in order to demonstrate the viability of PTT," says Arjun. "Moreover, after analyzing the literature a mathematical model was developed to evaluate a theoretical synergetic treatment."
"I've entered science competitions since Grade 5. I really enjoy taking my ideas and making them happen in real life," says Arjun, who also enjoys debating, sports and volunteer work.
He dreams of doing science in university, perhaps pursuing a career in medical research. One of the best parts of the competition was the great friendships Arjun has made. "I'm part of community of students who love sharing ideas and talking science."
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. The initiative is sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur Limited, Sanofi Canada, the National Research Council Canada/ Conseil national de recherches Canada (NRC-CNRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada (CIHR-IRSC), York University, Genome Canada and the Government of Canada's Youth Awareness Program. Canada's respected Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada has inspired counterpart competitions in the USA and Australia.