Young scientists tread road to better health
Preventing breast cancer, reducing the toxicity of radiotherapy and chemotherapy side-effects, and analysing memories during anaesthesia.
Three students from Waikato University who have just completed summer scholarships are investigating a range of interesting topics.
Laura Bell, Kirsty Mayall and Stephen Evans were each awarded a Waikato Clinical School Summer Studentship worth $5000. Miss Bell and Ms Mayall are about to embark on their second year of a Master of Science, while Mr Evans is in his first year of a PhD.
All three are focusing on biomedical science and will take their studentship research topic to the next level throughout 2014 as part of their degree.
Miss Mayall's research focuses on breast cancer prevention.
The former Hamilton Girls' High School student is being supervised by university lecturer and molecular geneticist Linda Peters and medical research scientist and consultant oncologist Michael Jameson from Waikato Hospital's oncology department.
"Selenium is an essential trace mineral that has critical roles in maintaining health in humans," Miss Mayall said. "Depending on the concentration and type of selenium, it can cause or prevent breast cancer."
The aim of her study is to test two different types of selenium at three concentrations each in human breast cancer cells that carry the BRCA1 mutation, an inherited breast and ovarian cancer gene.
"During my MSc I'll be looking at the different concentrations of selenium on the breast cancer cell-lines and what dose is lethal for the cells. From there we'll investigate what dose is most effective at reducing the levels of DNA damage present in the cells."
Stephen Evans is under supervision from Dr Jameson and fellow university scientist Steve Bird. His study also focuses on selenium. But instead of cancer prevention, he will look at reducing the negative effects of cancer treatment.
"High doses of selenium have been shown to reduce chemotherapy and radiotherapy-induced toxicities towards blood forming stem cells in both animal and human studies. My project examines the effects of selenium on the growth of such cells when they are exposed to these toxic cancer treatments," he said.
Miss Bell was originally inspired to study biology by her year 12 Hillcrest High School science teacher. Her research focuses on the effects of general anaesthetics on a patient's memory and is supervised by Dr Peters alongside Logan Voss from the Anaesthesia Department at Waikato Hospital.
"The mechanism by which anaesthetics disrupt memory is not well understood, but is likely to involve an interruption to gene expression and protein synthesis pathways," she said.
Previous studies had focused on the effect of anaesthetics in the brain's hippocampal area. However, the cerebral cortex was also an important site for memory and she will study this.
"In this study we will investigate anaesthetic effects on genes related to memory in the brain."