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Innovative research by a Grade 12 Winnipeg student that could lead to more effective understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease has earned top prize in the Manitoba 20th annual “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada” (SBCC), a biotechnology research competition that encourages students to pursue future studies and careers in the exciting field of biotechnology.

Ella Thomson of Balmoral Hall School, won the $2000 cash prize with a study into the link between mitochondrial dysfunction and Alzheimer’s Disease. Ella researched how malfunctions of the mitochondria, tiny structures within all human cells often referred to as “the powerhouse of the cell”, may be linked to the deterioration of brain cells seen in Alzheimer’s Disease.

Last year, Ella won the Manitoba SBCC by discovering a way to cause common soil bacteria to produce an excess of a plastic that can be recycled by those same soil bacteria. She chose to move to this entirely different field for this year’s SBCC. Ella has been among the top SBCC winners every year since she first competed in grade 8. Encouraged by her teacher advisor Jennifer Kirk and under the guidance of Winnipeg mentors Drs. Ben Albensi and Paul Fernyhough at St Boniface Hospital Research, Ella has worked on various research projects, steadily improving her knowledge, skills and scientific capacity.

“I have been involved with the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge for 5 years. This year, working in the lab at St-Boniface, in world class facilities and alongside world class researchers such as Dr. Fernyhough, Dr. Albensi and Dr. Chowdhury has been a fantastic learning experience. My mentors at St-Boniface were very accommodating with my schedule (being a full time high school student). Being the winner of this high level science competition is an honour, and has encouraged me to pursue science as a career path” Ella says.

Ella will now represent Manitoba in a final national competition on April 8-9 at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada. The top two national winners go on to the International BioGENEius Challenge, being held this year in Chicago on April 22.

The second place, $1,500 prize went to Daniel Huang, of St John’s Ravenscourt High School in Winnipeg, for a project on finding a new and more effective treatment for Glioblastoma brain cancer through drug-induced autophagic cell death – the drug Daniel studied causes the cancer cells to cannibalize each other.

The $1,000 third place prize was awarded to Ashley Bell, of Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg. Ashley studied the effect of lactic acid on gene expression in cancer cells. Lactic acid is the chemical produced when we exercise strenuously.

The $750 prize for fourth place went to Shreyas Devalapurkar, of Dakota Collegiate in Winnipeg. Shreyas investigated the effect of differential molecular weight proteins can rescue cells exposed to chemical stress.

Anna Liu of Shaftesbury High School in Winnipeg took the $500 fifth place prize for her study of the development of the lymphatic system that is important in protecting the body from germ invasion and cancers.

L-R: Shreyas Devalapurkar, Daniel Huang, Ella Thomson, Ashley Bell, Anna Liu

L-R: Shreyas Devalapurkar, Daniel Huang, Ella Thomson, Ashley Bell, Anna Liu

“Over some 20 years we have helped more than 4,500 Canadian youth bring their passion, creativity and scientific ideas to life,” said Rick Levick, Executive Director, Bioscience Education Canada. The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) 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.”

The “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada” sees students compete in nine regional competitions across Canada. What began as a competition for students in Toronto in 1993 has grown to involve now hundreds of students annually in Canada, the USA and Australia.

SBCC Results 2013