High school iGEM group

A group of Lethbridge and area high school students who want to take NASA technology and use it to help reduce the affects of Type 1 Diabetes recently came away from an international competition with an award for their research presentation -- and will be further recognized by the University of Lethbridge with $36,000 worth of scholarships ($1,000 per student).

Six students, members of the University of Lethbridge 36-person High School iGEM (International Genetically-engineered Machines) team made their first trip to the Indianapolis, IN contest as the only Canadian contingent, and presented their take on how to use an innovative, implantable capsule (developed by NASA to release medication in space) to manage the release of insulin for people with Type 1 Diabetes.

High school iGEM
The U of L High School iGEM Team. Back row (from L to R) Yoyo Yao, Erin Kwan, Janelle Veenendaal, Chris Isaac, Dax Law, Devan Carrier, Brianna Carrels, Trisha Bouma. Middle Row (from L to R) Orion Sehn, Branden Black, Marissa Guzzi, Cassandra Logue, Shammamah Hossain, Maya Many Grey Horses, Elaine Bird. Front Row (from L to R) Dawson Meyer, Erin Kelly, Brooke Heatherington, Alycia Amatto, Wesley Mosimann, Katelyn Harder. Missing in photo are Natalia Mitura, Iain Sander, Gerardo Karari Balderas Figueroa, Carissa Kirk, Corbin Chenger, Alli Herauf, Riley Martens, Jared Sparkes, Teddi Reynolds and Marie Cooney.

The group plans to engineer a bacteria that will secrete insulin in response to a person's glucose levels, then house it in the NASA biocapsule (so it is contained and not flowing freely in the bloodstream) where it will safely dispense insulin and could reduce the need for the continuous monitoring, injections and other challenges currently experienced by the hundreds of millions of people worldwide with diabetes.

Bold? Absolutely. Can it be done? That's what the group intends to find out.

That's why the U of L is rewarding them with scholarships – to help them pursue their interest in science and research at the U of L.

The $1,000 scholarship credit per student covers the cost of about two courses, and is available upon their successful application and acceptance to the University. The students will be presented with their awards at a brief ceremony that takes place Wednesday, July 11 beginning at 4 p.m. in Anderson Hall, room AH100 (Andy's Place).

"When the iGEM competition expanded to include high school students, the U of L saw an opportunity to follow suit and this year 36 students participated in the program," says Dr. Andy Hakin, the U of L's provost and vice president (academic). "Not only does this provide valuable hands-on learning opportunities, but it also augments the existing Alberta science curriculum. We are happy to be able to extend this world-class program into local high schools, exposing younger students to the unique opportunities available by pursuing a science education."

Team spokesperson Erin Kelly, a recent Catholic Central High School graduate entering fist year at the U of L in the fall, says the group brainstormed ideas with U of L iGEM team members and chemistry and biochemistry researchers that had a combination of what she describes as 'do-ability' and social relevance. They also looked to past iGEM projects for inspiration, since the work created by all iGEM teams worldwide is in the public domain and archived in the interests of conducting innovative research.

"A team at Berkeley created bacteria that could produce haemoglobin (a key component of blood) to function as a new type of red blood cell," says Kelly. "We would like to try this with the cells in the pancreas, which were damaged by the onset of Type 1 Diabetes. Another team from Missouri had figured out how to get the cell to detect glucose, which would let the cell know when there is too much sugar. Once glucose is detected, we could work on secreting insulin."

Kelly says the NASA capsule is a perfect place to house the bacteria, sustain it, and act as a filter to move the insulin from the capsule to the person.

"We would have a lot of work to do before we can get to that stage, because we have to engineer some other steps into the process. We expect that a project like this would be one that could carry through a few years of iGEM teamwork, and could be used by other teams to move their own projects forward."

At the U of L, the iGEM team concept has evolved to a point where the university-level group runs its own funded lab, regularly places in the top levels of international competitions, and has provided a significant boost to undergraduate students who wish to pursue further research at a masters level.

Their ongoing project involves engineering bacteria to recognize – and consume – harmful materials in oilsands tailings ponds.

"We have welcomed high-school researchers to the U of L iGEM group in the past, but to have this large number of interested and engaged students is a really great experience for all of us," says Dr. Hans-Joachim Wieden, a U of L biochemistry researcher and one of the faculty supervisors for both groups. "The additional support the students are receiving from the University in the form of scholarships is a great indicator of their achievement, and we look forward to having them join us as students when they begin their university studies. "


Lethbridge Collegiate Institute

Dax Law 11
Erin Kwan 12
Cassandra Logue 11
Devan Carrier 11
Teddi Reynolds 12
Gerardo Karari Balderas Figueroa 11

Catholic Central High School

Erin Kelly 12
Elaine Bird 11
Corbin Chenger 12
Carissa Kirk 10
Brooke Heatherington 11
Riley Martens 12
Marissa Guzzi 12
Branden Black 11
Katelyn Harder 11
Natalia Mitura 12
Iain Sander 11
Marie Cooney 11
Alycia Amatto 11

Chinook High School

Brianna Carrels 10
Yoyo Yao 11
Chris Isaac 11
Jared Sparkes 11
Maya Many Grey Horses 11
Wesley Mosimann 11
Dawson Meyer 11
Alli Herauf 10

Winston Churchill High School

Shammamah Hossain 11
Orion Sehn 10

Immanuel Christian High School

Janelle Veenendaal 11
Trisha Bouma 11