Mentorship helps high school student land international award
By Carol Thorbes
Thanks in part to the mentorship of two Simon Fraser University researchers, 16-year-old Nicole Ticea has received major endorsement and clear confirmation that international supporters share her dream of improving HIV diagnosis in developing countries. The Vancouver independent high school student has won $50,000 in scholarship money, one of the top three prizes at the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She beat more than 1,700 of the world’s most promising scientists for one of the top international prizes in science innovation.
Ticea had taken a major step towards creating the world’s first test capable of analyzing HIV viral nucleic acids in non-lab setting. The final market-ready version of the test is expected to provide a simple, portable method of HIV detection for newborns under 18-months of age and for early-stage HIV infected adults.
Stanford university researchers, SFU science grad student Gursev Anmole and his supervisor health sciences professor Mark Brockman were instrumental in helping Ticea achieve her winning breakthrough.
“Nicole is an incredibly bright and talented student who clearly has a passion for research that can improve people's lives,” says Brockman. “I am tremendously proud of her many successes, and that our laboratory at SFU was able to help in this important work.”
Ticea is a York House student, just finishing her Grade 11 year. She says: “The most vital aspect of winning this competition involves raising awareness about an issue that is often oversimplified in the realm of donations and public awareness.”
“Too often do we channel our efforts, time, and money into developing novel technologies for curing HIV or developing better vaccines and drugs that we often lose sight of the reality.
“The truth is as such: although access to therapy is rapidly expanding in developing countries, we lack the framework to identify HIV in its earliest stages of infection at the patient bedside. This is crucial because without early diagnosis, we cannot initiate early therapy, which has been linked to a significant increase in survival rates & life expectancy, and a decrease in transmission and infant mortality. Identifying this bottleneck is the crux of realizing where the gap in getting to zero HIV-related deaths & transmissions lies.”
Ticea’s parents Cip and Cremona are ecstatic, but not surprised. They were always confident that their daughter’s hard work and stellar mentorship would lead her to develop a winning low-cost, easy-to-use testing device to diagnose HIV infections in low income areas. The device uses a disposable, self-contained, electricity-free microfluidics cartridge that costs less than $5 to produce.
As Canada's engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement. SFU was founded almost 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far. Today, SFU is a leader amongst Canada's comprehensive research universities and is ranked one of the top universities in the world under 50 years of age. With campuses in British Columbia's three largest cities—Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby—SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 30,000 students, and boasts more than 130,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world.