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July 03, 2003— Ottawa, Ontario

After months of experimenting and competing at the regional level, high school students from across Canada earned the chance to present the findings from their biotech research projects as part of the national Aventis Biotechnology Challenge (Challenge). NRC researchers helped mentor a number of teams participating in the challenge. And, for the finals, NRC facilities across Canada were linked via videoconference as participants from 12 different cities made their presentations. The judging panel, based in Ottawa, included Dr. Gabrielle Adams from the NRC Institute for Biological Sciences (NRC-IBS) and Dr. Alan Bernstein, President, Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR).

Montreal student, Anila Madiraju, received the $5000 first prize for her research into the effectiveness of RNA interference in cancer treatment. RNA interference, a recently discovered phenomenon voted "Breakthrough of the Year (2002)" by the journal Science, is expected to be less harmful than chemotherapy in the battle against cancer. Madiraju's research received top honours for its innovation, scientific merit and creativity. Anila went on to compete against US teams in Washington, DC in June at BIO 2003-the world's largest gathering of biotechnology leaders.

Anila Madiraju, top of the class at the 2003 national Aventis Biotechnology Challenge.
Anila Madiraju, top of the class at the 2003 national Aventis Biotechnology Challenge.

The Aventis Biotech Challenge is a high-level national science competition introducing students to the real world of biotechnology by having them carry out research projects of their own design. This year's projects included a range of topics from Lou Gehrig's disease and agricultural pesticides to cancer prevention and stem cell research.

Each of the student teams were paired with a mentor in their community who provided expert advice and access to equipment and supplies. Dr. Jamshid Tanha of NRC-IBS mentored Ottawa students Alison Lin and Wallis Rudnik of Lisgar Collegiate Institute who took first place and the Linda Beynon Prize for Biomedical Research at the Eastern Ontario Region Aventis Biotech Challenge for their project entitled "Towards in-vivo selection of anti-poptotic single-domain antibodies". The students will receive prize money totalling $2,300, summer student positions, and $2,000 entrance scholarships to the University of Ottawa.

"The best part of this experience was the chance to work in a real lab and increasing my knowledge-base," said Lin. "Dr. Tanha and everyone in the lab were very helpful; there was always someone willing to help you."

Researchers from the NRC Institute for Plant Biotechnology (NRC-PBI) in Sasktoon mentored two different teams. Dr. Sean Hemmingsen mentored Raymond Ko from Walter Murray Collegiate. Ko took third place in the Saskatoon Region for his genetic analysis of a cell division control gene. As part of the Junior competition, NRC-PBI's Cheryl Bock mentored Janelle Rondeau and Kristen Piper from the Mother Teresa School in Saskatoon. The pair won third place for their work surrounding DNA fingerprinting.

Many of the students who compete in the Challenge go on to pursue careers in biotechnology, healthcare, agriculture and the environment. NRC is one of the major national partners of the event, which helps raise awareness among students, educators and the public about the emerging science of biotechnology.


Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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