BC student takes 4th place prize at International BioGENEius Challenge

Coquitlam girl, 17, investigated how genetic mutations naturally help some HIV patients escape symptoms

Chicago, IL April 23, 2103 – Selin Jessa of Coquitlam, B.C. has been awarded the fourth place, $1,000 prize in this year’s International BioGENEius Challenge science competition for high school students at the Biotechnology Industry Association’s annual conference in Chicago.

Her research involved genetic variations found among a rare few HIV-infected patients, known as “elite controllers”, whose immune systems naturally control common symptoms of the virus. The immune responses of elite controllers are so effective that HIV can only survive through mutations that compromise its ability to replicate. Selin engineered a mutant version of a specific HIV protein, an important step in identifying these viral mutations that may help design vaccines or other HIV therapies.

The 17-year-old Jessa competed against fellow Canadian Arjun Nair of Calgary, 10 finalists from the US BioGENEius Challenge and two students from the Western Australia version of the competition. Jessa and Nair won the opportunity to compete at BIO by taking the second and first prizes respectively in the national competition of the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada earlier this month.

This latest award brings the Grade 12 student’s cash prizes to a total of $7,500 from the provincial, national and international BioGENEius Challenge competitions. She attends the Dr. Charles Best Secondary School in Coquitlam and carried out her research at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

Launched at BIO’s first international conference in Toronto in 1994 and celebrating 20 years of competitions, the BioGENEius Challenge provides young scientists with access to professional labs and academic mentors, encouraging them to pursue future studies and careers in the fast-growing biotechnology sector.

Among the judges in this year’s international competition was Robert Merson, a participant in that first competition and now a consultant in the biotechnology industry. Also attending BIO was Ted Paranjothy of Manitoba, who won the provincial, Canadian and international BioGENEius Challenges in 2007. Ted was the guest speaker at the luncheon hosted by Gowlings, a Canadian legal firm, and also spoke with the American, Canadian and Australian BioGENEius competitors about his academic and work career since winning all three awards.

Both the US national and international BioGENEius Challenge competitions are organized by the Washington-based Biotechnology Institute, the national organization dedicated to biotechnology education, and sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi; and Janssen.

Further support for the BioGENEius Challenge is provided by International Supporters: The Astellas Foundation, BIO, Genentech and MedImmune; and U.S. National Supporters: Acorda Therapeutics, The Allergan Foundation and Sangamo BioSciences.

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.