Student, 16, progresses experimental way to kill cancer with gold nano ‘bullets,’ marvels experts

Bioscience Education Canada


Raising scientists: Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada celebrates 20 years of inspiring biotechnology studies and careers

Raising scientists: Canadian Governor General David Johnston meets national high school finalists, all 16 to 18 years old, Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada

Cutting edge research into an experimental therapy that deploys nano-particles of gold in the fight against cancer earned an Alberta high school student, 16, top national honours today in the 2013 “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada” (SBCC).

India-born Arjun Nair, 16, a Grade 11 student at Webber Academy, Calgary, 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).

His research project, mentored at the University of Calgary, advances an experimental cancer “photothermal therapy” which involves injecting a patient with gold nanoparticles. The particles accumulate in tumours, forming so-called “nano-bullets” that can be heated to kill cancer cells.

Arjun showed how an antibiotic may overcome the cancer’s defences and make the promising treatment more effective. Arjun’s research, which a panel of expert judges led by Luis Barreto, MD, called “world class Masters or PhD-level quality,” also won a special $1,000 prize awarded to the project with the greatest commercial potential. (See full project description below, and online at

Eleven brilliant students from nine Canadian regions, all just 16 to 18 years old, took part in the national finals. They had placed 1st at earlier regional SBCC competitions, conducted between March 21 and April 4.

Celebrating 20 years of inspiring young scientists in Canada, this year’s SBCC involved a total of 208 high school students collaborating on 123 projects, all mentored in professional labs over several months and submitted via the regional competitions.

Since its beginning in Toronto in 1994, some 4,500 young Canadians have competed in the SBCC, an event that has inspired sister BioGENEius competitions in the USA and Australia.

2nd place, $4,000 — British Columbia: Selin Jessa, 17, Grade 12, Dr. Charles Best Secondary School, Coquitlam, won the second place prize with research into how genetic mutations naturally help some HIV patients escape symptoms. Project description:

Arjun and Selin will compete for Canada April 22-23 at the International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual BIO conference, this year in Chicago.

3rd place, $3,000 — Quebec: Eunice Linh You, 17, Grade 11, Laval Liberty High School, Laval, who investigated how to tailor stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s disease (see

4th place, $2,000 — Greater Toronto: Lauren Chan, 17, Grade 12, University of Toronto Schools, who described a potential new therapy to reduce the severity of diabetes (see

5th place, $1,000 — Manitoba: Daniel Huang, 16, Grade 11, St. John’s Ravenscourt School, Winnipeg, who discovered a potential new tactic to fight the world’s deadliest brain cancer (see

Honorable mention, $500:

Jared Trask, 18, Kaitlyn Stockley, 17, Grade 12, Holy Spirit High School, Conception Bay West, Newfoundland, who, for the second consecutive year, won the Atlantic region competition by proving novel ideas for creating biofuels (see;

Adamo Young, 16, Grade 11, Lisgar Collegiate Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, who found that altering its nitrogen supply appears to tame a toxic fungus that ruins billions worth of grain worldwide (see;

Melanie Grondin, 17, Shawn Liu, 18, Vincent Massey Secondary School, Windsor, Ontario, who found a marker in medicine’s quest for the holy grail of leukaemia treatments: limitless supplies of healthy stem cells (see

Saruul Uuganbayar, 17, Grade 12, Centennial Collegiate, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who invented a molecular therapy for mutated cells with the dream of curing cancer (see; and

Following the presentation ceremony at the NRC, Governor-General David Johnston, a distinguished educator prior to his vice-regal appointment, received the students at Rideau Hall.

News release in full: click here

Coverage highlights:

The Globe and Mail, click here

Agence France Presse, click here

The Canadian Press, click here

QMI news agency, click here

The Vancouver Sun, news story click here,  (op-ed) here

The Calgary Sun, click here

CTV Canada AM, click here

Full coverage summary, click here