Eight local high school students have spent their summer working in uLethbridge labs, gaining valuable experience while working on research projects through the Highschool Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program.

Whether it’s seeking to better understand how viral RNAs interact with human proteins, the potential of curing diseases caused by mutations in genes encoding tRNA modification enzymes, comparing the size of the hippocampus in mice of different ages, discovering the role of fear conditioning in mice with Alzheimer’s disease, using computer modelling to simulate the structural changes induced by RNA modifications, or learning to interpret the data from analytical ultracentrifugation (AUC), these students have gained insight to the process of research and learned what it’s like to work in a lab.

Trinity Ley Ramos and Eva Glenn, students at Chinook High School, have worked in Tony Montina’s lab in the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) facility in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Their project involves using NMR technology to analyze urine samples from university athletes who have suffered concussions. Samples were taken before a concussion, on days one through five following a concussion diagnosis and again after a doctor had cleared the athlete to return to play. The students looked for differences between the samples.

“Using NMR spectroscopy, we can highlight any significant metabolites present that could indicate a concussion has occurred,” says Glenn. “From there, we can compare the different sets of data. This project could be very useful in the future for developing better diagnostic techniques for head injuries. By providing one urine sample, concussions could be easily identified and diagnosed even faster than before.”

“So far, the most interesting result we’ve seen is the significance of the change in concentrations of picolinic acid found in our time series comparison,” says Ramos. “According to the Human Metabolome Database (HMDB), picolinic acid is produced under inflammatory conditions, which is very promising as it could be indicative of inflammation caused by trauma to the brain.”

Both credit the HYRS program for giving them the opportunity to do research work in a lab and further ignite their passion for the sciences.

“I have had an amazing time working alongside bachelor’s, graduate and PhD students in our scientific research,” says Glenn. “HYRS is definitely a positive experience that has helped me learn, grow and fuel my passion for science.”

“The HYRS program has really helped me make sense of what I want my own path to look like, especially as I come closer to completing my years in high school,” says Ramos. “Additionally, the networks and connections we’ve built over the summer have been so rewarding and that has got me truly excited for what I could contribute to the table next.”

Other students in the HYRS program include Finley Lothian, who’s working in Dr. Ute Kothe’s lab; Amber Quo, who’s working in Dr. Trushar Patel’s lab; Jorja Salmon and Priyanshi Patel, who are both working with Dr. Robert Sutherland in the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience; Zaki Olvis, who’s working with Dr. Stacey Wetmore and Kieran Schmidtke, who’s working with Dr. Borries Demeler.