Student wins top science prize
Flu virus research earns NRC honour
Chris Maclean, The Ottawa CitizenPublished: Thursday, May 08, 2008
A 17-year-old Ottawa student has won a national science competition with research into diagnosing and possibly preventing the influenza virus.
Maria Merziotis, a Grade 12 student at Hillcrest High School, took the top prize, worth $5,000, at the 2008 Sanofi-Aventis BioTalent Challenge, announced yesterday at National Research Council headquarters. She also won a $1,000 prize for having the project with the most commercial potential.
"I just wanted to create something that would touch on an issue that affects a lot of people," Ms. Merziotis said after the ceremony.
17-year-old Maria Merziotis won a national science competition yesterday for her study that demonstrated the potential of a new way to diagnose, and perhaps prevent, influenza.
Julie Oliver, The Ottawa Citizen
This is not your typical science fair. Students in the competition are assigned a mentor in their community who provides advice and access to equipment and supplies. The students submit research proposals for evaluation by a scientific committee and the results are judged by fellow students and representatives of government, business and academia.
Ms. Merziotis says she worked on her project three days a week for a year. Michel Gilbert of the National Research Council's Institute of Biological Sciences was her mentor on the project, which was dubbed
"Tricking the Influenza virus."
Ms. Merziotis designed a receptor (a form of salic[[sic sialic see - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sialic_acid]]- acid) for the flu virus that would bind the virus, preventing it from attaching to human cells. The receptor is also able to determine to which strain of the virus it was attached.
"The influenza threat is very serious and it's very important that research like this, on preventing and monitoring it, continues to happen. That's why we chose this topic," said Mr. Gilbert.
The students in the BioTalent Challenge "represent some of the finest young scientists across Canada," said Roman Szumski, vice-president of life sciences at the National Research Council, which hosted the competition results announcement yesterday.
Ms. Merziotis' research has been sent to Health Canada, which has said her application has "encouraging results." Health Canada plans to continue to test her receptor to see how effective it is at preventing and identifying different strains of the influenza virus.
As for Ms. Merziotis?
"I would like to continue studying science, maybe go into medical school or research," she said.
"Curiosity is what binds all scientists, and I love trying to find answers, so, hopefully, I'll continue doing that."
As for the money, Ms. Merziotis says she plans to save it for university.
Ms. Merziotis and the second-place team, a trio of students from the University of Toronto School, will represent Canada at the international BioGENEius Challenge in San Diego, California, from June 16-18.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2008
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