My name is Jessica Wickware, and I am a recent graduate of Harry Ainlay High School in Edmonton, Alberta. Over the last school year I had the chance to participate in the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada. In my project, which was completed under the supervision of Dr. Ratmir Derda and Wadim Matochko, I cultured breast cancer cells in peptide-containing paper and studied the development of drug resistance in cells adhered to those peptides. Next year I am going to the University of Alberta, where I hope to further my knowledge in science and continue research.
In this project, we modeled the environment surrounding cells inside the body using a paper-based cell culture platform. In this three-dimensional model, we demonstrated that cells will adhere to certain peptides added to the paper, and will sometimes exhibit drug resistance by continuing to grow in the presence of chemotherapeutic drugs.
What motivated you to participate in SBC? Did anyone encourage you?
I first stumbled across the SBCC website on my own the summer before I competed. However, it was not until the competition was featured at my school by my teachers and Work Experience Coordinators that I really decided I was going to participate. I was fascinated by the idea that I would be able to do research in an area that was of great personal interest to me and then share what I learned with others.
Where did your project idea come from?
When I began looking for a project idea, I was already a volunteer in Dr. Derda’s lab at the University of Alberta. I knew the general area I was interested in researching (i.e. cancer), so I approached Dr. Derda in the hopes that I would be able to complete a project in his lab. He, in turn, helped me find a project that matched well with my interests, and this is how my SBCC experience began.
What about your work might be of interest to other teens or impact their everyday life?
The substrate on which I cultured cells, paper, is something that is used by all of us every day. Paper is actually a three-dimensional structure: in this project, we harnessed that quality to create a 3D cell culture model that allowed us to actually look inside the paper (using a microscope) to see how the cells responded to treatment with Taxol (a commonly used anticancer drug) when bound to different peptides synthesized onto the paper. 3D cell culture is an increasingly used technique because it allows for a more accurate representation of how cells behave when compared with conventional, 2D cell culture. In the future, paper such as the type I was working with could perhaps be used as a quick and easy way to study breast cancer tumours (by folding and stacking the papers to mimic the different layers of the tumour) as well as to assess whether or not a patient has developed resistance to a chemotherapeutic drug.
What was your favourite part of the experience? Was there anything you found especially challenging?
It’s difficult to pick just one thing I liked- the whole experience was excellent! I really enjoyed both the actual research process and having the chance to travel to Ottawa to present my project. Research is a lot of work, and I sometimes found it difficult to balance my project with school and other commitments. However, at the end of my project, when I looked back at all that we accomplished, I was amazed at how much I had learned. In Ottawa, I presented my project at the National Research Council and met some truly incredible people: it was a great experience.
What would be your advice for other youth considering participation in SBC?
I would highly recommend the SBCC to anyone who is considering competing. This is a truly incredible opportunity to discover exactly what the scientific process entails as well as to develop skills necessary for anyone interested in a career in science, such as giving a talk and creating a poster. These are things most people will not have the chance to do until later, so take advantage of the chance- you never know who you will meet or what you will learn.