Science Star Rising

posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Last week, Grade 12 student Justin Lin won second prize and received high praise at the Sanofi Biogenius Canada national competition in Ottawa, having won first place at the Manitoba regional round in April. This nation-wide competition is open to high school students and has helped almost 5,000 young Canadians pursue real-world scientific research projects that have been the launch pads to future studies and careers. Coordinated by Partners in Research, the initiative is sponsored by Sanofi Canada, the National Research Council Canada/Conseil national de recherches Canada (NRC-CNRC), Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) and DelMar Pharmaceuticals.

This has been a fantastic year for Justin: in addition to winning the above awards, he was selected by the Manitoba Schools Science Symposium (MSSS) in April to be a member of Team MB to the Canada-Wide Science Fair (CWSF). He was awarded a Gold Medal at the senior level, and also won two special awards - Canadian Society for Clinical Chemists Award and Youth Can Innovate Award. Justin is pictured below Mr. Gwyn Morgan and Mrs. Patricia Trottier at the CWSF, whose foundation sponsored the award.

Early in the year, Justin earned top honours at the University of Manitoba Sanofi Biogenius Canada (SBC) Manitoba competition and was awarded the University of Manitoba Leaders of Tomorrow scholarship – one of only six given to students graduating high school within Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.

Justin's research examines the topic of Peptide-Directed Selective Knockdown of Misfolded SOD1 by Chaperone-Mediated Autophagy. His research studied ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that typically results in death 3-5 years following diagnosis. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease and motor neurone disease, and causes the death of neurons which control voluntary muscles. It is characterized by stiff muscles, muscle twitching, and gradually worsening weakness due to muscles decreasing in size, the result being difficulty speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing.

Justin expected that a certain protein, the misfolded SOD1, was related to causing ALS, specifically degrading the protein. The CT4 peptide selectively binds to this protein, and sends it to lysosomes in the body resulting in degradation. There is currently no cure, or a reliable method of diagnosis. Justin's project allowed him to develop not only a more reliable method of diagnosis, but a possible cure! Justin has always been interested in scientific research, and had already worked in a cardiovascular research lab at the University of Manitoba. This year, he wanted to try something new, and conducted his research in a neuroscience lab at the university. In previous years, his research had been done at St. Boniface. 

Currently,  there  is  no  definitive  diagnostic process  for  the  disease,  and  Justin's project proposes a new tool that could assist with early detection and improved patient prognosis. His mentor at the University of Manitoba, where he will be heading next year, was Dr. Jiming Kong.

Justin's advice to other students considering a science project: "I would recommend following your passions and finding a mentor who is willing to work closely with you. It is also important to have faith in yourself and persevere. I believe that the research conducted by high schoolstudents can change the world!"

Image courtesy of the Winnipeg Sun.