Nicole Ticea is only in Grade 10, but the student at Vancouver's York House School is already generating national attention for an early-stage HIV infection test that is up for a major science award later this month.
The process, which is "nearly as simple as a pregnancy test," works by analyzing a small amount of blood on a tiny lab chip to quickly discern whether a person has been infected with the virus, a Simon Fraser University (SFU) news release said last week.
It won Ticea first place in the 2014 B.C. Regional Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge, and she'll now present her project at the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC), which will take place at the headquarters of the National Research Council in Ottawa on May 22.
If she wins that competition, she'll move on to the International BioGENEius Challenge, which happens in San Diego, Calif. from June 22 to 25. The winner takes home a US$7,500 cash award.
Ticea came up with her project, titled "Isothermic Nucleic Acid Amplification System for Point-of-Care HIV Diagnosis," last summer, ahead of the B.C. BioGENEius Challenge.
She eventually came under the mentorship of SFU's Mark Brockman, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and graduate student Gursev Anmole, who helped develop the project before it was presented to judges.
Brockman and Anmole proved that her test could work in lab experiments, while Ticea worked with them as she juggled priorities such as homework, sports and other extracurricular activities.
Working on the project basically meant that Ticea had to give up her social life, but for her, it was worth it.
"Being in the lab really reinforced what I already knew," she said in a news release. "That scientific research involves dedication, determination, long hours and a deep-rooted love for the field that makes sacrifices worthwhile."
Ticea's work may already put her in high demand in the health sector.
The B.C. government announced this week they'll be encouraging all adults in British Columbia to be tested for HIV as part of a regular medical exam, after routine HIV testing "found at least 60 people in early and late stages of HIV who were not linked to persons, practices or groups normally associated with HIV," according to the Canadian Press.
She's not the first B.C. whiz kid to garner attention for an innovative science project.
Last year, Victoria's Ann Makosinski won her age category at the Google Science Fair after inventing a body heat-powered flashlight.
The teen later appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as part of the "Fallonventions" segment.
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