Sajeev Kohli, 2018 NATIONAL and INTERNATIONAL WINNER
Sajeev’s passion for science began before entering high school. As an elementary school student, he reached out to nearly 100 professors before securing a mentor at the University of Waterloo. Sajeev spent his first year under his mentor writing 75-page project proposals to prove his competence before he was granted access to the lab.
In 2017/2018 as a grade 11 student in Waterloo, Ontario, Sajeev attended school during the day while working on his project “Recruiting Endogenous Proteins for Site Specific Transport” at night. The project idea came to Sajeev after witnessing the pain and agony his uncle went through with the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of kidney cancer. Sajeev was successful in his goal of finding a treatment option that is less invasive and less painful to go through. He created a new way to build nanoparticle based drug carriers that can be programmed to travel to and deliver drugs to a particular part of the body. This treatment has been applied to cells from lung, breast and colorectal cancer and has shown to be 10 times faster to implement, 7 times less expensive and 5 times more effective than existing gold standards for cancer treatment. With some modification, this treatment can be applicable to other types of cancer or even other diseases.
Sajeev’s research led him to begin work in about 10 different labs at the University of Waterloo, each of which offered him something different; he also frequently visited the SPARC Molecular Analysis Facility at SickKids for data analysis. It wasn’t long before his proficiency drew the attention of others. Sajeev was often misidentified as a graduate student and asked to perform data analysis for other researchers at the University of Waterloo.
In 2018 Sajeev’s project won him first place in both the regional and national Sanofi Biogenius Canada competitions. Upon winning the national competition he was given the opportunity to compete at the International BioGENEius Challenge in Boston where he won the grand prize in the Global Healthcare Challenge. Sajeev is the first Canadian since 2004 to place first in the regional, national, and international competitions.
When asked what advice he would give to a student looking into the SBC, Sajeev said, “Never be afraid to pursue something you’re passionate about. Situations may seem difficult, you may become frustrated, things may seem to never work, but always stay persistent and always believe in what you are doing because as long as you believe in the work you do, I can guarantee something will come out of it, leading you one step closer towards making a truly impactful breakthrough.”
When Sajeev is not making breakthroughs in cancer research, he is either taking part in school clubs such as math, science, global issues and DECA or playing piano at a grade 10 RCM level, practicing whenever he can and playing Bollywood music for his grandmother.
tasnia nabil, 2017 NATIONAL WINNER
Tasnia has been researching nanoparticles since before entering high school. She has been involved in science fairs throughout her entire high school career, however this year was the first year she won the national SBC competition. As a grade 11 student from Windsor, Ontario, she entered the competition with her research on ferromagnetic nanotherapy as a cancer treatment. Tasnia went on to place second in the International BioGENEius Challenge in San Diego this past June.
Working at the London Health Sciences Center with Dr. Alison Allan has enabled Tasnia to immerse herself in her research. Tasnia discovered that injecting a tumor with ferromagnetic cells and using an external magnetic source to oscillate the particles can kill the cancer and leave the healthy cells unharmed. Due to cancer cells being more heat sensitive than regular cells, the friction produced by the oscillating particles generates enough heat to kill the cancer cells and leaves healthy cells alone. This type of therapy has been shown to theoretically kill 88% of breast cancer cells in less than an hour. Tasnia’s model also allows a physician to input the patient’s information and it will tell them how to carry out the treatment, including how many nanoparticles to use as well as the length of the therapy.
Tasnia has received a lot of recognition for her work, she is a multi-time gold medallist at the Canada Wide Science Fair, she has received the NSERC University of Windsor Promotion of Science Award, The Actuarial Foundation of Canada Award, and has won the Jean Foster Writing Award among others as well. Tasnia is currently in her last year of high school at Vincent Massey Secondary School in Windsor, Ontario.
Curing cancer is just one of Tasnia’s goals in life, she also hopes become a biomedical researcher and to set an example. “I really want to inspire other children to make a change in the world,” she says, “I really don’t think that science has an age limit, I think that anyone can do science.”
aditya mohan, 2015 NATIONAL winner
Aditya started out in elementary school reading medical literature way beyond the scope of anything he had learned in school. He had a genuine passion for cancer research and was hungry for an opportunity to start his research. Once in high school he sent letter after letter out to professors and other relevant researchers. “I e-mailed I think nearly 300 professors throughout Ottawa and I had interviews with them and some of them didn’t go well at all,” and then he found his mentor, Angela Crawley.
In the Crawley lab in Ottawa, Aditya learned about viruses and he collaborated with OHRI labs to learn more about cancer research. “If you are really interested, there’s no point waiting years,” he says. “Just go on any opportunity that you have and just build on whatever you have right now.”
While working with Crawley, Aditya was able to develop a new cancer-fighting virus by genetically modifying the common cold. “I’ve been able to develop a virus that targets cancer cells and essentially kills them. It’s working very effectively. (In trials) it’s killing 98% of the cancer cells and leaving the healthy cells alone.”
Aditya, a grade 12 at the time, brought his research to the Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition and won both the regional and national competitions in 2015. He presented his research at the International BioGENEius Challenge and won himself an honourable mention. Aditya has won numerous other awards for his work including the prestigious Canadian Manning Innovation Award, and first place at the International Science and Engineering Fair.
After the competition, Aditya won one of 50 Schulich scholarships valued at $80,000. He went on to study for a year at McGill University in Montreal, and then transferred to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, where he is currently a pre-med student. He has continued researching throughout his university career, “I think it is important that students today pursue their passions and realize that in today’s day and age, very little is impossible. As the adage dictates: ‘where there is a will, there is a way.’ At the end of the day, every pursuit of excellence begins and ends with a passion,” he says.
nicole ticea, 2014 NATIONAL WINNER
Inspired by the convergence of a poem on the AIDS epidemic from 1980 and a piece of scientific literature on HIV diagnosis, Nicole Ticea was able to develop a low cost, electricity-free, rapid, easy to use device that can detect early stage HIV in both adults and infants.
Nicole began with the problem of wanting to improve the health of HIV+ individuals worldwide. “When I set out to somehow tackle this big problem of improving the health of HIV+ individuals worldwide, for me that really entailed: creating a device that can perform early rapid diagnosis of HIV in adults before 6-12 weeks post transmission and in infants under the age of 18 months, creating a device that can properly stage the infection by looking at exactly how much virus is present in the patients bloodstream, and finally creating a device that is able to actually see if whether the patient has a particular strain of HIV that is resistant to certain drugs and if this is the case, predicting which drugs, which combination of drugs will work best in tackling the virus in their bodies.”
She accomplished all of this in a lab at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC working with graduate student Gursev Anmole and associate professor Mark Brockman. Nicole developed a method of detecting HIV by amplifying the virus using isothermic nucleic acid amplification in the blood and testing for the actual virus instead of looking for HIV antibodies, as most tests on the market right now do. She brought her research to Sanofi Biogenius Canada, placing first and moving onto the International BioGENEius Challenge. “I am extremely grateful I had participated in the program; in the end, Sanofi not only paired me with a mentor willing to explore my project but also helped me hone my presentation skills.”
Nicole has received a lot of praise for her work, including the 2015 Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award. She was also able to start her own business enterprise, called OneWorld Diagnostics Inc., and she hopes to eventually be able to distribute her device worldwide. She has received several grants including $100,000 to continue developing her technology.
Currently Nicole is currently in her second year at Stanford University, in the bioengineering department. She is continuing her research on HIV and trying to make her device more accessible worldwide.
MARSHALL ZHANG, 2011 NATIONAL WINNER
Before he began his SBCC project, Marshall Zhang had never met anyone with cystic fibrosis (CF), but his groundbreaking discovery would soon bring him heartfelt messages of thanks and congratulations from CF patients and their families across Canada.
At just 16 years old, (an age when most of his peers were busy with videogames!) Marshall used the Canadian SCINET network to invent an amazing drug cocktail that may one day help treat CF, a genetic disorder that affects the lungs and digestive system.
With mentorship from Dr. Christine Bear, Marshall navigated the sophisticated computer modelling system to identify how two drugs interacted with one part of the mutant protein that causes CF. He then proved his virtual findings were correct using living cells in culture.
“The cells treated with the two drugs were functioning as if they were the cells of healthy individuals,” Marshall explains, adding that the best part of his SBCC experience was realizing the real impact his research could have on people.
With this discovery, Marshall, who is currently studying at Harvard, plays a crucial role in laying the groundwork for identifying effective CF treatments, as well as paving a path for drug development through computational means.
iveta demirova, 2016 NATIONAL WINNER
Iveta has been interested in science and research since elementary school, her research started out with her collecting rocks and bugs and quickly advanced to HIV research in high school. A grade 11 at the time, Iveta Demirova was given first place at the 2016 Sanofi Biogenius Canada national competition for her research on a new HIV-1 therapy.
Working in a lab at Simon Fraser University with her mentor Dr. Ralph Pantophlet, Iveta was able to discover a new therapy to help individuals living with HIV. Iveta’s research has the potential to help HIV-positive individuals that have become resistant to current treatment options.
Iveta is also founder and president of the first branch of the Initiative for Neuroscience and Dementia in BC out of her high school, New Westminster Secondary School. The club raises money through fundraisers and holds information sessions, all with the hope of spreading awareness and funding research projects. She is currently a schulich scholar at McGill University, studying life sciences.
When asked what advice she would give to a student looking into the Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition, Iveta said, “I encourage anyone interested in science to just do it, because there are so many opportunities to get involved. There are also many people out there to support you if you really want it.” She remembers, “The whole experience from being given the opportunity to work in a university lab under the mentorship of Dr. Pantophlet and the other lab members, conducting a real-life scientific research to meeting all the other participants in the competition and sharing experiences and ideas was truly amazing!”
austin wang, 2015 NATIONAL runner-up
He is only just starting his second year of undergrad at Princeton and already Austin Wang has accomplished more than a lot of university graduates. In 2015 Austin competed in the Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition, after placing second in the national competition, he went onto compete and win the grand prize at the International BioGENEius Challenge in Philadelphia for his research on microbial fuel cells.
Originally from British Columbia, Austin has been splitting his time between his hometown of Vancouver and his school in New Jersey. He has been able to continue his research and says it has definitely had an impact on his chosen field of study.
Austin first started researching microbial fuel cells in grade nine after stumbling across a webpage on them. He first built his own mini microbial fuel cell in his backyard using a cashew container and soil. Once he secured mentorship with Dr. Susan Baldwin at UBC he started researching in a university lab and has been successful ever since.
Austin’s research involves microbial fuel cells, which are batteries powered by bacteria. The bacteria are able to breakdown organic materials in wastewater into electricity however the current process is inefficient and expensive. Austin found a way to enhance microbe performance enough to “potentially generate 600 gigawatts of energy from waste biomass. That is more than the entire United States energy demand alone!”
Many people have recognized Austin for his research; recently he was listed in Princeton’s top 25 under 25. He competed and won the top prize Gordon E. Moore Award of $75,000 at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2016. Not only has he been recognized for his science, but he is also an award winning composer and has performed around the world.
Even after all the recognition, Austin recalls the Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition fondly, “the best part of the experience was just being able to talk to like-minded students of the same age from countries all around the world, and to see the really cool research they were doing. I was blown away by some of the science.”
JANELLE TAM, 2012 NATIONAL WINNER
Student, piano teacher, competitive debater – Janelle Tam wears many hats, but the achievement that’s garnered her most acclaim is her recent discovery of an anti-aging compound found in wood pulp.
At just 16 years old, Janelle was the first to show that NCCs (Nanocrystalline Cellulose, the tiny particles that make up the woody material in trees,) is a powerful antioxidant with many unique properties.
Stronger than steel but flexible, durable and ultra light, NCC’s potential uses are virtually limitless. “It’s non-toxic, stable, soluble in water, and renewable, since it comes from trees,” says Janelle, who, for her Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) project, paired NCC with a buckminsterfullerene particle to produce an amazing combination with the ability to neutralize harmful new radicals. “NCC is really a hot field of research in Canada,” she adds, noting that antioxidants have anti-aging and health benefits, including wound healing properties.
Janelle is passionate about youth outreach, she has founded and worked with multiple programs designed to educate and enrich elementary school students’ learning. She was both co-founder and president of What I Think, a middle school debating training program. Janelle was also founder and director of Vivace Piano Studio, a music studio employing high school and university students as piano teachers.
Since the competition, Janelle has gone on to graduate Princeton University with a degree in Molecular Biology. She has recently moved back to Canada and works at a consulting firm out of Toronto. Janelle continues to advocate for youth in science, she believes that it is “essential to invest in talent for the future through programs such as the Sanofi Biogenius Canada competition that engage youth in biotechnology-oriented research. We need to continue to mentor the next generation!”
Janelle has earned many awards and honours for her work. She was listed as one of Canada’s Future Leaders under 25: The Ones to Watch by Maclean’s Magazine, she has gone to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fairs to represent Canada for three consecutive years, and she has also represented Ontario at the Canadian National Debate Championship.
RUI SONG, 2010 NATIONAL WINNER
At just 14 years old, whiz kid Rui Song was the youngest national finalist in the history of the SBCC. Astonishing judges with her research into the molecular fingerprint of a crop-killing disease, it was no great surprise when she claimed first place in 2010.
Rui’s project aimed to find molecular markers that can tell the difference between two closely related types of fungus that attack lentil crops. Though almost identical, one type attacks lentils far more aggressively, destroying crops in countries like Canada, Bangladesh, Syria, and Ethiopia.
Though Rui did not uncover the definitive identifier that solves the fungus riddle, her research into 50 of the 2,000 potential genetic markers provided a promising direction for more detailed research in future, which could one day ignite efforts to develop resistant lentil varieties.
“Before the SBCC, I hadn’t even considered being a researcher,” says Rui. “I now hope to continue my research journey in university and in my career, to continue creating beneficial change in the world.”
Rui hasn’t given up her quest: in 2012, she made her mark at the SBCC Nationals once again, placing second for her research into developing a more nutritious variety of lentil. She has since accepted an offer to spend a summer at Harvard, and is weighing university options in pursuit of a doctoral degree.