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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 16 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 20
Vancouver, BC high school student invents new HIV test
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Vancouver, BC high school student invents new HIV test

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer A 15-year-old Canadian high school student has developed a new 'instant' HIV test that can provide results faster and cheaper than currently available methods.

The test is not yet ready for production, because it has not passed thorough scientific review, but it is considered feasible.

Nicole Ticea, a student at a private girl's school in Vancouver, BC won first place for her HIV test in the British Columbia 2014 Regional Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge, a contest for high school students to produce biotechnology projects.

Entries are judged on a combination of originality and scientific merit, execution, and their ability to communicate their research. As part of the challenge students with suitable ideas are paired with university staff and students. In Ticea's case Simon Fraser University Associate Professor Mark Brockman and graduate student Gursev Anmole provided advice and helped her refine her test.

Anmole says the collaboration was a two way street.

'What Nicole has accomplished gave me a bigger picture on my own work, which involves analyzing immunity controlling T-cell receptors to see how they can be used in developing an HIV vaccine,' he said.

'Being in the lab really reinforced what I already knew,' Ticea said. 'That scientific research involves dedication, determination, long hours and a deep-rooted love for the field that makes sacrifices worthwhile.'

She added that she still managed to keep up her studies and extracurricular activities while developing the test since she began work on it in October last year.

Ticea's test uses a process called Isothermic Nucleic Acid Amplification. This allows users to place a drop of blood on a chip and receive a near instantaneous reading of their HIV status, in what is described as 'a process only slightly more difficult than a pregnancy test.'

Currently available 'rapid' HIV tests can produce results within 30 minutes to one hour.

Ticea used techniques that have been successful in identifying other viral infections and applied them to HIV for the first time. Rather than looking for antibodies to HIV, as the majority of existing tests do, Ticea amplifies the virus itself. This removes the window during which people are infected, but still show up as negative on antibody tests because the immune system has yet to gear up its response.

Existing viral amplification tests for HIV are expensive and time consuming, but Ticea's produces an instant result and reportedly would be cheap to manufacture.

Ticea's entry goes to the national final next week, from which two winners will go to the world final in San Diego in June. Ticea's research is also one of 12 Canadian entries in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which opened May 12.

Second prize winner in the BC contest was Lena Choi, with a project titled, 'Enzymes vs. Chemicals: Exploiting Specificity to Boost the Efficiency of Dissolving Pulp Production.'

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