Jasleen Grewal, scholarship winner
Jasleen Grewal recalls the moment a life-changing email landed in her inbox: she had been selected for a summer internship at Harvard’s prestigious Stem Cell Institute internship. “I was in class when I read the email – it was hard to pay attention to the lecture after that,” she laughs. “As soon as class wrapped up, I called my parents in India. They were absolutely over the moon. They always believed in me and said I would go far.”
The internship was a dream come true for Jasleen, who had been fascinated by the molecular world since she was 12 years old. After completing Grade 10, with the support of her parents, she left India to complete her high school education in Vancouver. She was drawn to SFU’s joint program in Computing Science and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, which prepares students for a career in bioinformatics – a field that uses computational tools to process and analyze biological and genetic data.
The Harvard Stem Cell Institute places 35 students in the hospitals and schools that it collaborates with in a number of research areas. Working with Dr. Winston Hide and his team at the Harvard School of Public Health, Jasleen studies the genetic data of zebrafish, looking at blood formation in zebrafish embryos.
She analyses how genes interact and looks for connections in the data. The zebrafish is of particular interest because of identified gene mutations. Jasleen explains: “In the case of the bloodless mutant, there is no blood in the embryo until up to five days of development,” she says. “Interestingly, in case of the vlad tepes mutant, blood cells disappear when exposed to light and proliferate in the dark.”
The analyses conducted by Jasleen and the team could lead to potential treatment for blood disorders like leukemia and genetic anemia.
In acknowledgement of Jasleen’s academic excellence and achievements as an ambassador for women in the field, she received the Simba Technologies Inc. Scholarship in Computing Science, 2014, awarding her $1,000 towards her education expenses.
“Winning the scholarship is a real honour and a great help financially, especially as an international student,” she says.
“Simba Technologies is a big player in database management and big data and to be recognized for my achievements by a giant in computing science is very motivational. The money and the recognition go a long way in helping me feel that I’m really doing something beneficial.”
The future certainly looks bright for the third-year student, who has also received a Vice-President of Research Undergraduate Student Research Award that will fund her next research experience: analyzing circulating tumor DNA with SFU’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. “I’m so excited for this year and the next, to get to work with such incredible people doing amazing research,” she says. “It’s also very humbling at the same time. I’m just so thankful for the experience.”