Tag Archives: Rui Song

2014 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) national winners announced

Last week on May 23, 2014, the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) National winners were announced in Ottawa. (A Feb. 20, 2013 posting recounts the organization’s history and accomplishments on its 20th anniversary). Here’s more about the 2014 national winners from a May 23, 2014 Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada news release,

A novel method of HIV detection for newborns under the age of 18 months and for adults before three months post-transmission earned a grade 10, British Columbia student top national honours today [May 23, 2014] in the 2014 “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada” (SBCC).

Nicole Ticea, 15, from York House School in Burnaby, BC was awarded the top prize of $5,000 by a panel of eminent Canadian scientists assembled at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

Her impressive research project, mentored at Simon Fraser University by associate professor, Dr. Mark Brockman, is the first test capable of analyzing HIV viral nucleic acids in a point-of-care, low-resource setting.Nicole’s research, was deemed an incredibly innovative solution to a global challenge according to the judges led by Dr. Julie Ducharme, General Manager, Human Health Therapeutics, NRC.

See a full project description below and online here: http://sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca/2014/05/23/

Ten brilliant young scientists from nine Canadian regions, all just 15 to 18 years old, took part in the national finals. They had placed first at earlier regional SBCC competitions, conducted between March 27 and May 22, 2014.

High school and CEGEP students from Victoria to Saskatoon to St. John’s, focused on biotechnology fields of discovery and study, submitted more than 200 proposals. Working closely with mentors, these students conducted research in diverse areas such as telomeres, diabetes, stress management, Alzheimer’s, autism and pulp production. Since its inauguration in 1994, more than 4,700 young Canadians have competed in SBCC, with the majority of competitors going on to pursue careers in science and biotechnology.

1st place winner, Nicole Ticea will compete for Canada on June 22-25 at the International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual BIO conference in San Diego, CA.

2nd place, $4,000 – Ontario: Varsha Jayasankar, 17, grade 12, Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, St. Catherines won with research into how an extract created from mango ginger can be used to inhibit the growth of multiple antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Project description: http://sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca/2014/05/23/

3rd place, $3,000 – Ontario: Anoop Manjunath, 17, grade 11, University of Toronto Schools, Toronto investigated image processing techniques for the analysis of ultrasound stimulated bubble interactions with fibrin clots.Project description: http://sanofibiogeneiuschallenge.ca/2014/05/23/

There were a couple of other projects (one for its ‘nano’ focus and the other for its ‘wheat’ focus), which caught my attention, from the SBCC 2014 National Competitor Project Descriptions page by Anne Ramsay,

Amit Scheer, Grade 10

Colonel By Secondary School, Ottawa, ON

“Development of a Novel Quantum Dot-Aptamer Bioconjugate Targeted Cancer Therapy for Precision Nanomedicine Applications”

A novel nanoparticle for targeted cancer therapeutics is described. This research was effectuated to create a theranostic bioconjugate with an optimal effective therapeutic index, achieved by biomarker-specific targeting. Estimates show that over 14 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed annually worldwide. Aptamer-quantum dot (APT-QD) bioconjugates were synthesized by conjugating cadmium-telluride quantum dots (QDs, semiconductor nanoparticles) to aptamers (nucleic-acid based ligands), by amide crosslinking. Aptamers targeted mucin-1 (MUC1), a glycosylated surface protein overexpressed on many cancers, including MCF7 breast cancer cells, and only minimally expressed in MCF-10A non-cancerous cells. The bioconjugate and unmodified QD treatments (the control) were tested for cellular uptake and cytotoxicity in MCF7 (cancerous) and MCF-10A (comparison) cell cultures. MTT assays, which quantify cellular viability by assessing mitochondrial activity, were used for dose-response analysis at several treatment concentrations. APT-QDs caused a statistically significant decrease in viability specifically in MUC1-overexpressing cultures, suggesting cell-specific internalization by receptor-mediated endocytosis. Apoptosis and necrosis were quantified using immunofluorescence assays; bioconjugate-treated cells were early apoptotic after 4 hours, proving effective initiation of programmed cell death. Finally, confocal microscopy was used for aptamer-dependent nanoparticle internalization analysis, demonstrating that APT-QDs accumulate outside of nuclei. A fluorochrome-modified DNA complement to the aptamer was synthesized for co-localization of aptamers and QDs, proving effective endosomal escape for both components. The bioconjugate has applications in combination and theranostic treatments for cancer, and in precision medicine to diversify targeting based on patient-specific panomics analyses. The researcher created a novel bioconjugate nanoparticle and has proven numerous viable applications in cancer therapeutics.

Wenyu Ruan, Grade 9, & Amy Yu Ruiyun Wang, Grade 10

Walter Murray Collegiate Institute, Saskatoon, SK

“Identification of Leaf Rust Resistance in Wheat”

Leaf rust is the most common disease in wheat, a crop which contributes $11B annually to Canada’s economy. The most effective strategy to control leaf rust has been to grow resistant varieties. There are two general types of resistance genes found in wheat: Race-specific genes confer a high-level of resistance to specific strains of leaf rust but can be easily overcome by genetic mutation in pathogen populations, while slow rusting (APR) resistance provides partial resistance to a broad spectrum of races, but is typically effective only at the adult stage of plant growth. A three-phase experiment was conducted on a doubled-haploid population derived from the cross RL4452/AC Domain to determine if the resistance of a recently discovered gene (Lr2BS) worked with other resistance genes to synergistically enhance resistance to leaf rust. Linkage and quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping were performed by combining our new genotypic data with a previously generated genetic map for this population, then adding rust disease data from our experiment to identify genomic regions associated with leaf rust resistance. In addition, a fluorescent microscope was used to examine host-pathogen interaction on a cellular level. These experiments showed that lines carrying Lr2BS alone, and in combination with other APR genes were susceptible at the seedling stage, which suggests that Lr2BS is an adult plant gene. It appears that the synergistic effect of some multiple gene combinations, including Lr2BS, enhances leaf rust resistance. Furthermore, QTL mapping identified an uncharacterized resistance gene (LrUsw4B) that conferred resistance at the seedling stage.

I am sorry to see they are not sending all three national finalists to the international competition as they did in 2012. As I noted in my July 16, 2012 posting the international standings did not reflect the national standings,

As the 2012 winner of the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition, Tam was invited to compete in this year’s international Sanofi BioGENEisu Challenge held in Boston, Massachusetts on June 19, 2012. [Janelle] Tam received an honourable mention for her work while Rui Song of Saskatoon placed third internationally.

Presumably the costs are too high to continue the practice.

Getting back to 2014, congratulations to all the competitors and the winners! And, good luck to Nicole Ticea at the International BioGENEius Challenge which will be conducted at the annual BIO conference, June 22-25  2014, in San Diego, CA!

Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada celebrates 20 years

The first time (May 11, 2012 posting) I wrote about the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) competition was when Janelle Tam was recognized as the 2012 national winner for her work with nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) or, as it is sometimes known, cellulose nanocrystals (CNC).  As I noted then,

For anyone who’s curious about Sanofi, it’s a French multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered in Paris, France. I found the Wikipedia essay a little more informative than the Sanofi company website .

Justifiably proud not only of Tam and other 2012 winners, SBCC has sent out a news release enumerating the many triumphs and benefits associated with this competition. From the SBCC Feb.20, 2012 news release,

Unexpected bonus prizes from a high school bioscience competition, mentored by some of Canada’s top research experts, range from six-figure scholarships, valuable networks and commercial patents to peer-reviewed journal citations, global publicity, international conference invitations and more, former teen participants say.

But the reward cited most often by alumni of the “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada” (SBCC), this year marking its 20th annual competition, is the eye-opening experience of watching their inventive ideas succeed and being encouraged in a professional lab, creating in many a career-shaping passion for science.

“That’s a benefit shared throughout Canada’s economy, which has a growing, $86 billion biotechnology sector, as well as with people worldwide,” says Jeff Graham, Chair of the Board at the Toronto-based Bioscience Education Canada, which manages the SBCC program.

“This program has been ‘infecting’ teens with what one mentor calls the ‘research virus’ and inspiring bioscience careers since 1994. And with hundreds of dedicated partner organizations and mentors nation-wide, we are extremely proud of the success achieved so far as we mark the 20th annual SBCC.

The competition’s latest surprise bonus prize winners are 2012 national competitors Jeanny Yao, 18, and Miranda Wang, 19 of Vancouver, both now in first year at universities in Toronto and Montreal respectively.  The pair will spend Feb. 27 in Long Beach California, invited by organizers of the prestigious TED 2013 conference to tell the world’s science elite how they identified a species of bacteria from the Fraser River’s muddy banks that helps decompose plastic.

Their BC regional SBCC-winning project came to public attention last May in a front page story by the Vancouver Sun (http://bit.ly/XrsaB9)  as the duo were packing to attend SBCC’s national finals in Ottawa.  In the white marble halls of National Research Council of Canada headquarters — the country’s science temple — SBCC’s high-level final judging panel recognised Jeanny and Miranda’s project with a special prize for the “greatest commercial potential.”  (The girls have since approached firms in BC and Ontario on commercialisation ideas.)

They were invited last summer to present their project again at TED@Vancouver (http://bit.ly/X5PRAF), part of a “worldwide talent search,” and were among a handful picked from 293 entrants to reprise their presentation in California.

TED is widely considered the world’s marquee annual science show-and-tell.  And sharing a stage with fellow speakers like U2’s lead singer Bono and PayPal Founder Peter Theil is a five exclamation mark adventure for a couple of university frosh.

“We are extremely excited about this opportunity…!! We couldn’t have done this without your help!!!” Miranda wrote, announcing the news to SBCC’s Vancouver coordinators, LifeSciences BC.  (For more on Jeanny and Miranda at TED: http://bit.ly/WRAs45).

According to the news release some 4500 Canadian teenagers have participated in the competition since 1994. There was a survey of 375 participants, from the news release,

In a survey of 375 past participants by Bioscience Education Canada [BEC], which runs SBCC, 84% said their participation helped determine their field of study or career plan; 74% were pursuing biotechnology-related education or professions, with 12.5% undecided.  Some 55% were current university students, 24% planned to apply after high school, and 21% were post-secondary graduates now in the workforce.  Nearly 60% of respondents were female and 79% had or have bursaries and/or scholarships.

Typical of comments teens relayed with the survey replies, from Brooke Drover of Vernon River, PEI: “It was amazing. So unbelievably stressful, but when my team came second place I could hardly breathe. It was the best feeling in the world knowing that I didn’t just play a sport and win a trophy. I helped the scientific community.”

“Thanks to hundreds of top scientist mentors who have shared their expertise and lab space with the student competitors, we’ve discovered and nurtured incredible talent in high schools and CEGEP classrooms nation-wide,” says Rick Levick, Executive Director of BEC and head of the national competition since its inception,

“The mentors are the unsung heroes of the SBCC program. They often bring out a passion for science and talent for research in kids who didn’t know they had any.”

While I do have some questions about the survey (when was it administered? how was it administered? why 375? etc.), I’m letting them go in appreciation of the participants’ extraordinary accomplishments, from the news release,


Maria Merziotis, $5,000 first place winner in the national 2008 SBCC, found her prize included an academic fast track.  At 21, when those her age at university typically complete an undergrad degree, she’s finishing second year at the University of Ottawa’s medical school, with papers about her flu-related research in preparation for academic publication.

And, just seven years after he first impressed SBCC’s august panel of national judges as a Grade 11 student, Ottawa’s James MacLeod, now 23, is completing a Queen’s University master’s degree in pathology and molecular medicine and applying for early acceptance into the department’s PhD program.

Both credit SBCC with helping them reach medical career doors unusually soon.  Says Maria: “The SBCC competition is the main reason I stand where I am today.  It allowed me to explore the field of research, and through the doors it opened, gained me early acceptance into medical school.”


Says Rui Song of Saskatoon, who in Grade 9, age 14 (a veteran of Saskatchewan’s unique SBCC program for kids in Grades 7 and 8) prevailed over much older teens to win the #1 national award in 2010: “Before the SBCC, I hadn’t even considered being a researcher. I now hope to continue my research journey in university and in my career to continue creating beneficial change in the world.”

Her 2010 work to genetically fingerprint a lentil crop-killing fungus left the expert national judges “astonished.”  She also placed 2nd in last year’s national competition, accepted an offer to spend last summer doing research at Harvard, and today, in Grade 12, is weighing full-time university offers.

Southwestern Ontario

The 2012 top national winner, Janelle Tam of Waterloo, says “SBCC was a huge part of why I started laboratory research at the university in high school, which was instrumental in my decision that I want to be a professor.”

Janelle, completing Grade 12 with studies at Princeton University ahead this fall, detailed the anti-ageing potential of a nano compound found in wood pulp, capturing media attention in at least 36 countries (http://bit.ly/XduBJd), including a social media blog by then-Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (http://bit.ly/THiq7P).  Last summer in Québec she detailed her findings to staff and researchers of CelluForce’s, Domtar Corp. and FPInnovations — Canadian firms leading the commercial development of nanocrystalline cellulose.


At 17, Sarai Hamodat of St John’s, Newfoundland, entered a prize-winning SBCC project  showing that a traditional Asian oil remedy could ease the suffering of asthma patients, a project inspired by her hope of helping her asthmatic uncle.

Says Sarai, now 23 and a medical resident in pharmacology at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax: “SBCC was my first real introduction to what the world of science has to offer.”

British Columbia

Taneille Johnson entered the competition in 2009 from Fort St. John (pop. 22,000) near the Alberta border in northern BC.  At 16, she lived alone for a summer to work with a University of Calgary mentor in a quest to decipher DNA mutations that may lie behind a rare disorder which causes early onset aging and progressive bone marrow failure.

Taneille, the first student from northern BC to enter the regional event, won it in 2010 and placed third overall at the national finals in Ottawa.  Now 20, she’s a second year BSc student of immunology at McGill University, Montreal, with a goal of medical school studies at the University of British Columbia.

“Not many first year university science students can approach their professor and show them the amount of lab experience I had from the SBCC,” she says, adding “I really cannot overstate how unique the SBCC experience is for high school students.”

Greater Toronto

A year after his first place national win in the 2011 SBCC, Toronto’s Marshall Zhang faced a tough decision: offers from three of the world’s most prestigious Ivy League universities — Yale, Harvard and Princeton.

“The SBCC changed the course of my life,” says Marshall, now a Harvard freshman, who at age 16, and mentored at the Hospital for Sick Kids, used a powerful supercomputer cluster to create a potential new treatment for cystic fibrosis.

On CBC’s “The Nature of Things,” host Dr. David Suzuki cited Marshall and his ideas as an example of the marvels of uninhibited teenage thinking.  CF patients and their parents from across Canada and elsewhere wrote or called out of the blue to congratulate and thank Marshall for his efforts on their behalf.  He was in Grade 11.

“I’d never met a CF patient before then,” he says, adding that the most memorable part of the entire adventure was realizing the real impact his research could have on people.


At 17, Ted Paranjothy of Winnipeg, inspired by a memory from five years old of a friend who died from leukemia, invested 3,000 research hours over two years after school with a mentor at the University of Manitoba, developing innovative ideas for cancer treatment.  Ted’s framework for an anti-cancer agent able to kill human cancer cells without harming healthy ones is an innovation on which he now holds a patent.

His Grade 12 project earned a triple crown of high school biotech science: a first place sweep of the 2007 SBCC regional and national competitions, as well as the Sanofi-sponsored International BioGENEius Challenge — the only Canadian to achieve that distinction so far.  The three first prize cheques totaled $15,000.

Later awarded some $150,000 in scholarships from other sources, Ted continued work with his distinguished mentor, Dr. Marek Los, and had three papers in peer-reviewed journals by the end of first year at UofM.  Now 22, Ted is an independent researcher in cell science at UofM.  He credits SBCC with enabling his university graduate-level research while still in high school, and says it “inspired me to pursue a career in biomedical research.”


In 2011, a trio of Montreal CEGEP students entered the national SBCC with their new sorbet for vegetarians, having discovered a substitute for animal-based gelatine normally found in the frozen dessert.  They won 2nd prize overall, a special award for that year’s project with the greatest commercial potential, and a lot of public attention, which helped create connections with several patent lawyers.

Today, all three are at universities studying science.  “The SBCC definitely pushed to me to explore research opportunities in medicine,” says one team member, Simon Leclerc, adding that feedback from top scientists who evaluated their project and the experience gained was “inestimable… The SBCC is of great help for young, otherwise non-connected students to push their projects forward.”

Brava! Bravo!

Applications for the 2013 competition have been closed since November 2012 but there is a listing of the times and dates for the regional and national 2013 competitions. Although it’s unclear to me whether or not the public is invited to attend, you can get more details here.

2012 SANOFI BioGENEius Canada followup: Janelle Tam and CelluForce

Janelle Tam (high school student mentioned in my May 11, 2012 posting) was welcomed by CelluForce, the joint FPInnovation/Domtar company in Windsor, Québec, so she could demonstrate some of her nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) research. Caroline Bouchard in a July 11, 2012 article for La Presse/La Tribune provides more information about the research and when any potential products might be created (Frrench language excerpt, I will attempt a translation),

Janelle Tam, une jeune Ontarienne de 17 ans, a découvert une substance bénéfique pour la santé à base de nanocellulose cristalline (NCC) telle que produite à l’usine Celluforce de Windsor.

Couplée chimiquement à des particules de carbone, la NCC, une substance extraite de la fibre du bois, serait un puissant agent antivieillissement et un antioxydant supérieur aux vitamines C et E.

Sans être considérée comme une véritable fontaine de jouvence, cette découverte s’avère prometteuse pour améliorer les produits de santé et anti-âge, des applications que Celluforce pourrait exploiter d’ici trois à cinq ans.

Translation here we go: Tam discovered a new substance, based on NCC, which is extracted from wood and produced by the CelluForce plant in Windsor, with anti-aging properties and  superior anti-oxidant properties to vitamins C & E. The NCC is combined with carbon nanoparticles (specifically buckminster fullerenes). CelluForce may be able to exploit this health/beauty application in the next three to five years.

The CelluForce folks were so excited about Tam & her work they presented her with a plaque when she visited their plant on July 9, 2012,

Janelle Tam and Dr. Richard Berry, Vice President, Chief Technology Officer at CelluForce (courtesy: CelluForce)

Tam’s research opens a new opportunity for NCC research which, in Canada, has mainly focussed on textiles, composites, and coatings. Here’s Tam describing her work (from the Bouchard article),

«Les antioxydants préviennent et traitent des maladies. Ils peuvent aussi être utilisés dans la conservation des aliments et dans les produits anti-âge. Certains antioxydants sont toutefois toxiques, ou encore, ne sont pas solubles dans l’eau. Par exemple, les vitamines C et E se dégradent, alors quand elles sont présentes dans un produit cosmétique, leur effet diminue avec le temps. La NCC est naturelle, non toxique, soluble et stable. Elle peut aussi réagir à la température ou au pH», explique Janelle Tam, originaire de Singapour et étudiante de 12e année au Waterloo Collegiate Institute.

Rough (very) translation: Antioxidants can prevent and treat illness. They can also be used for food preservation and anti-aging. Some antioxidants are toxic and/or insoluble in water. For example, vitamins C & E degrade so when they’re present in a cosmetic the effect tapers off over time. NCC is natural, nontoxic, soluble, and stable. It also reacts to temperature or pH levels,  explains Tam originally from Singapore and a student in grade 12 at Waterloo Collegiate Institute.

As the 2012 winner of the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition, Tam was invited to compete in this year’s international Sanofi BioGENEisu Challenge held in Boston, Massachusetts on June 19, 2012. Tam received an honourable mention for her work while Rui Song of Saskatoon placed third internationally. From the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada website,

A 16-year-old Saskatchewan girl with a goal of improving world health by engineering a more nutritious variety of lentil was among the top prize winners Tuesday June 19 at an international science competition for elite high school students.

Rui Song, a Grade 11 student at Saskatoon’s Walter Murray Collegiate, was awarded the $2,500 third place prize at this year’s International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual global BIO conference in Boston.

Janelle Tam, a Grade 12 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Ontario, was awarded a $500 prize and honourable mention for her project — the invention of a disease-fighting, anti-aging compound using nano-particles from trees.

Both girls had earned berths in the international competition last month in the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada with first (Janelle) and second place (Rui) finishes.

Congratulations to both Rui Song and Janelle Tam.

I interviewed Dr. Richard Berry in my Aug. 27, 2010 posting where he very kindly answered my questions about cellulose, the nano kind and otherwise.

One final thought, why doesn’t CelluForce stimulate more innovative research on NCC by running a contest modeled on this Sanofi BioGENEius competition? They could call it something like the ‘CelluForce Creativity Crunch’.