High-school science student summers in renowned U of A researcher's lab

(Edmonton) Life really does have a way of coming around full circle. Just ask Vishnu Vasanthan, a first-year U of A student who is spending the summer working with renowned Alzheimer’s researcher Jack Jhamandas.
Vasanthan, who plans on applying to medical school, met Jhamandas last year while working on a high-school science project.

Vasanthan and his classmates at Old Scona Academic High School, Eunice Ho and Kelson Mah, had to come up with a research project for a science competition. They thought Alzheimer’s would be a great topic because it is so prevalent. So they emailed Jhamandas, a neurology professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

Numerous researchers from across the U of A volunteer their time for this annual science challenge for high-school students, known as The Sanofi-Aventis BiolTalent Challenge.

The students asked Jhamandas for some advice and guidance with their project and the researcher was happy to assist them. The teens came across an obscure dermatology article that talked about an enzyme in the brain called MMP9, which could potentially reduce the effects of amyloid plaque, an important player in Alzheimer’s disease.

They did their research and learned that in other parts of the body, histamine can produce cells that will produce MMP9. But histamine is potent in the brain, causing inflammation and other problems. The teens’ project focused on trying to determine an appropriate amount of histamine to trigger MMP9 production and reduce plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Once their project wrapped up, the teens kept in touch with Jhamandas and emailed him congratulations for an Alzheimer’s discovery he made earlier this year.

Jhamandas says he is pleased to see Vasanthan still has a strong passion for science, discovery and research into Alzheimer’s.

“For a researcher and clinician such as myself, one of the most satisfying and rewarding endeavours is to impart the joy of discovery and science to a young trainee such as Vishnu—to nurture and guide him through a career in research and to take pride in his achievements. It is without question the pinnacle of academic parenting that one strives for as a scientist.”

When Vasanthan first set out to research Alzheimer’s disease with his high-school classmates, he never imagined that more than a year later he would be continuing that work in Jhamandas’s lab at the U of A campus.

"Working with a renowned specialist like Dr. Jhamandas has definitely helped me expand my horizons in the field of neurology. I am sure that this research experience will be a great asset in my future endeavours."

Vasanthan’s summer position is funded by Alberta Innovates Health Solutions’ summer studentship award.