Teens make their mark on cancer research

The Victoria resident has been spending July and August conducting supervised cancer research inside a lab at the B.C. Cancer Agency’s Deeley Research Centre near Royal Jubilee Hospital.

Come September, when her classes resume at St. Andrews Regional high school in Saanich, Michelle Kim won’t look at science the same after what she’s experienced this summer.

“You just can’t top this,” said the 16-year-old, who will soon start Grade 12.

The Victoria resident has been spending July and August conducting supervised cancer research inside a lab at the B.C. Cancer Agency’s Deeley Research Centre near Royal Jubilee Hospital.

Kim is the first from St. Andrews and Laticia Davies is the first from Victoria High selected to participate in the competitive high school summer internship research program, which continues until Aug. 26.

“I certainly plan to encourage other people to apply,” Kim said. “It’s been great.”

Joining them in the labs are Emma Thomson from Oak Bay High and Leah Kelley from Sooke’s Edward Milne community school.

Their participation marks the first time four female students have been chosen to work in the centre’s high-tech labs together.

Since the program began in 2004, four students, who are either 16 years old or in Grade 11 at the time of their application, are selected each year to conduct cancer research. They must pass exams at the end of the program to receive $3,000 bursaries.

The students provide invaluable help to researchers, who are studying how the immune system responds to cancer, and gain unique insight into a potential career path, said lab co-ordinator Siao Yong, a former researcher who mentored the students.

“I would say this is the best science class (for them) because you gain experience in the lab and you’re learning beyond what you’re doing in the (high school) classroom,” said Yong. “Some of the material is for first- and second-year university students.”

Past interns have had work published in research journals, while others have gone on to medical school and another is now a Rhodes Scholar, she said, adding that researchers also appreciate the youthful perspective the interns bring with them.

“It’s refreshing to have that enthusiasm.” Yong said.

Every morning, Monday to Friday, the students arrive and don crisp white lab coats before joining in the centre’s efforts to help develop treatments for different types of cancer.

The experience has been beyond Kim’s dreams. She says she will have difficulty topping it when she looks for work next summer.

“I thought we’d get to do small jobs,” said Kim. “It’s been way more.”

The hands-on work has shown her what is possible as she considers pursuing a job in the medical field.

“Even if I become a doctor, a lot of doctors do research on the side,” said Kim. “So that leaves many options for me.”

emccracken@vicnews.com

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