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Local students compete in prestigious science fair

It’s a little more advanced than the baking soda volcano or the jar of sea monkeys from the science fairs of yore.

Five of six students from Holy Heart of Mary who are competing in the Atlantic portion of the Sanofi Biogenius Canada (SBC) competition this week are (from left) Zoe Breen, Guadalupe Koen-Allonso, Dina Shehata, Grace King and Aylssa Young.

Sanofi Biogenius Canada (SBC) is a highly prestigious science competition for high school students, one that gives young people real-life experience in biotechnology research. Six students from Holy Heart of Mary in St. John’s are taking part in the Atlantic region part of the competition this week.

Dina Shehata’s project, “Low-Cost Gel Models for Point of Care Ultrasound Training,” is looking at a more affordable version of phantom ultrasound gels that mimic human tissue. They are used by health trainees to practice puncturing veins, drug delivery etc. They make for a great teaching tool, but one that can flatline the pocketbook. Dina saw a torso replica made from such a gel that cost $26,000.

“Why not create a low-cost version just to increase medical competency in the world?” she says.

Coming from a small town in Egypt where hospitals are underfunded, Shehata also saw the potential for how a cheaper gel could benefit areas like her hometown.

“I really like looking at the technology and how that can be improved to further increase the longevity of humans,” she says.

Alyssa Young’s project, “Childhood Cancer Chemotherapy: The promise of non-genotoxic options,” looks at a rare juvenile ovarian cancer that has a few treatments available and can be very hard on the patient. Young has been looking at non-genotoxic options which won’t attack all body cells, in the hope of finding a treatment that’s easier on the patient.

“I’ve always had an interest in biomedical engineering and creating new things through biology,” she says.

Grace King’s project, “Extracts of partridgeberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and the treatment of triple negative breast cancer,” looks at the possibility that the much beloved Newfoundland berry might be a little more valuable than just a spread for toast. Grace is investigating if the extract can have an impact on the movement of the cancer cells.

“I was really interested in going back to a natural route for cancer treatment,” she says.

Kayoe Steward is the Atlantic regional co-ordinator for the Sanofi Biogenius Competition.

“What distinguishes it from other science fairs and other competitions, I guess, in general is that it actually mimics real life,” he says.

The students get matched with a local mentor and the research goes miles beyond what the classroom would teach.

“It’s quite an experience for them because they get so much out of this,” he says.

The students are in New Brunswick for the Atlantic region competition, the winner of which will head to Ottawa next month for the nationals.

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