The fight against cardiovascular disease gained a new ally, a 17 year old
Seventeen-year-old Ryan Wang of St. John’s-Ravenscourt School received top prize at the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) Manitoba regionals for his project on identifying the role of the scleraxis protein in cardiac fibrosis – a dangerous and often fatal stiffening of the heart that occurs in response to various stresses such as heart attack, high blood pressure, congenital defects and diabetes.
Wang’s research won him the gold medal among 19 other Manitoba science students.
The grade-12 student also received the SBCC Genome Prairie Genomics award, presented to him at a ceremony last evening. Wang’s next stop will be May 22, 2014 for the SBCC 2014 National Competition in Ottawa.
Wang’s project focused on determining whether scleraxis is regulated by phosphorylation – a common modification of proteins that can alter their function. His data indicates that scleraxis is normally phosphorylated, and when he generated a scleraxis mutant that could not be phosphorylated, the activity of scleraxis fell dramatically. The protein that appears to be responsible for phosphorylating scleraxis is called casein kinase 2. Wang showed that pre-treating cells with a casein kinase 2 inhibitor blocked the ability of scleraxis to turn on collagen production.
As it currently stands, there is no treatment that directly targets the process of fibrosis. Wang’s research project, however, provides a unique glimpse on how scleraxis activity may be targeted – which could one day lead to viable treatment options.
Dr. Mike Czubryt, Associate Professor of Physiology, College of Medicine, University of Manitoba, was Ryan’s primary research mentor. Czubryt, who received a SBCC Mentor Award for his role in guiding Ryan’s research pursuits, says his young pupil is a devoted and tirelessly-dedicated researcher.
Wang would spend his weekends — and some evenings – within in the confines of Czubryt’s St-Boniface Hospital Research lab to conduct his now award-winning research.
Certainly not the way your typical 17-year-old spends their free time.
“This was Ryan’s first-ever science fair, and his work on this project underpinned a patent application that was filed earlier this week. I’m very pleased to see his hard work pay dividends for him,” says Czubryt.
The SBCC Manitoba regional boasted a total of 20 research projects spanning a wide area of Life Science. The projects focused on topics from cutting edge studies in medical and pharmaceutical research, environmental, agriculture, nutraceutical and functional foods, chemistry, basic biological studies and others, often including overlapping fields.
SBCC Coordinator and Science Advisor for the Manitoba Region, Bob Brown, says the level of competition and quality of research initiatives soars to new heights every year.
This year’s edition was no different.
“I’m always amazed and awe-struck at the variety of research projects and the high-level of collaboration that takes place between the students and their professional research advisors,” says Brown. “These kids are the brightest of the bunch and they prove it here every year.”
Dennis Drewnik, a grade 10 student from Sisler High School, who conducted a study on the identification of genes that control host-pathogen interactions, says he’s gained immeasurable confidence in his abilities as a researcher.
“I feel like I’ve become a better researcher. I know more lab procedures and I’ve increased my knowledge,” says Drewnik. “I’m now in a position where I feel like I can teach others the types of things I’ve been doing through my research.”
Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.