Seven future researchers successfully complete HHS youth mentorship program
This summer, the “group of seven” worked on research projects to help diagnose infections, prevent blood clots in children, support virtual health care and more – and they’ve all just graduated from high school.
The Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) Health Research Bursary Program offers a summer internship for high school students, paring them with world-class researchers to get hands-on experience in the medical research community. Today marks the end of their placements. These students not only leave with new knowledge and skills, but a $1,500 bursary to put towards their academic studies.
This program began in 2004 by HHS Research Administration as a youth outreach initiative specifically designed to attract senior high school students who are interested in pursuing either health or life sciences post-secondary studies. It provides real-world experience, with an application process that simulates a grant submission and becoming a member of a research team, an opportunity typically reserved for undergraduate students. The program successfully continues thanks to the leadership of HHS researchers, who understand the value of mentorship.
“These students have done a remarkable job this summer and we hope the experience will benefit them in their future medical research careers.”
“This hands-on experience is a first step towards a health research career for these students. One that I hope leads them back to Hamilton to return as part of the HHS team,” says Daniela Bianco, manager, research development & relations at Hamilton Health Sciences and program creator.
Typically the program attracts students from across the province, with accommodations and meals provided in the McMaster University residence for those coming from outside of the Golden Horseshoe. However, due to the pandemic, this portion of the program could not be provided this summer, so the focus was on accepting students from the Hamilton region.
“We’re thrilled that with COVID-19 protocols in place, we were still able to offer the program, even if it was a modified version,” says Bianco. “These students have done a remarkable job this summer and we hope the experience will benefit them in their future medical research careers.”
Research Bursary Program participants
Vikram Arora is a recent graduate from Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton. In the fall, he is attending McMaster University in the Honours Integrated Science program. He is interested in a career in the healthcare field, and hopes to attend medical or dental school following his undergraduate education. This summer, Vikram worked with HHS pediatric hematologist and oncologist Dr. Mihir Bhatt on a retrospective study that focused on hospital-acquired thrombosis, or blood clots in children. He worked to determine the types of patients who are most at risk for hospital-acquired venous thromboembolisms, blood clots in the veins, and who will benefit from preventative medication and therapies. Vikram gained experience in analyzing research papers, patient data extraction, statistical analysis, and preparing a scientific research presentation.
Tharani De Silva is a recent graduate of St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton. In the fall, she will enter the Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours) Program at McMaster University. Tharani hopes to pursue a career as a surgical oncologist and researcher. This summer, she worked under Dr. Pablo Serrano at the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre in research focused on the outcomes of patients requiring surgical removal of tumors of the liver, pancreas or gallbladder. Tharani engaged in multiple clinical trials where she collected and managed data for further analysis. She also assisted in the NERv trial, conducting lab tests with fluid samples for a medical device aimed to be an early diagnostic method for postoperative complications. Through this opportunity, Tharani gained valuable experience in the research and surgical fields that will inspire her in her future endeavours.
Emily Foxman has recently completed Grade 12 at Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton. In the fall, she will begin her first year at McGill University, studying biological sciences. Emily has a growing passion for anatomy and cell biology, and hopes to continue on to medical school. This summer, Emily worked under the supervision of Dr. Geoff Werstuck and Dr. Daniel Venegas-Pino at the Thrombosis and Atherosclerosis Research Institute (TaARI), of HHS and McMaster University. In connection to the laboratory’s overarching goal—to understand why people with diabetes are more likely to get heart disease—Emily learned various protocols and methods including the measurement of glucose levels in mouse models of diabetes. She also developed a technique to explore the effects of hyperglycemia, too much sugar in the blood, on kidney function.
Chiara Fricano is a French Immersion graduate of Cathedral High School in Hamilton. She will enter McMaster University’s Life Science Gateway program this fall with the goal of a future surgical career. Under the mentorship of HHS cardiologists Drs. Richard Whitlock and Emilie Belley-Côté, Chiara collaborated with various clinical teams through the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI), a joint institute of HHS and McMaster University. She worked to screen, recruit, consent, and follow-up with patients for multiple critical care studies. For example, Chiara consented the 100th patient in the LIMIT study, which compares the benefits and risks of reducing blood clot rates with vitamin K while on blood thinning medication following mechanical heart valve replacement surgery.
Anne Fu is a graduate of Ancaster High School who will be entering the Bachelor’s of Health Sciences program at Queen’s University in the fall. This summer, she worked under the supervision of Dr. Anthony Chan in the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology division at McMaster University Medical Centre, contributing to a variety of projects regarding current practices in hemophilia, thromboembolism, and blood cancer treatment. She received certifications in courses on research ethics, privacy, and good clinical practices; performed literature searches; and conducted retrospective reviews of patient data. Anne also helped draft a manuscript concerning ethical methods of clinical trial participant selection, and gained valuable experience in scientific writing. Her previous background in childcare and medicine, combined with the experience of the bursary program, have made her eager to pursue a career in pediatrics.
Wenjun Jiang has recently completed Grade 12 at Ancaster High Secondary School. He will enter his first year of the Integrated Science program at McMaster University in the fall and hopes to pursue a career in cardiology or immunology. This summer Wenjun worked with PHRI scientist Dr. Michael McGillion and colleagues on the surgical transitions program within the Greater Hamilton Health Network, involving postoperative remote automated monitoring. Within this program, Wenjun supported the HHS nursing team with data extraction and organization of data pertaining to critical patient vital status alerts. Wenjun also worked with Dr. McGillion and his team on several original research papers and review papers on remote automated patient monitoring. As a learner, Wenjun has gained valuable skills in data management, research, and preparation of scientific papers.
Fatima Zakar is a graduate of Saltlfeet District High School. She will be attending McMaster University in the fall to study life sciences with the goal of pursuing a career as a surgeon-scientist. This summer, Fatima had the opportunity to work in the lab of HHS critical care physician Dr. Alison Fox-Robichaud on a project that aims to diagnose sepsis infections early in patients from the emergency department by finding a reliable biomarker. Throughout her time in the lab, she learned about sepsis and its pathophysiology as well as fundamental safe laboratory skills. In addition, Fatima learned how to perform standard laboratory procedures for a variety of biomarkers, prepare samples, and conduct a scoping review.
Keep an eye on the Research Bursary Program webpage for more information as it becomes available for 2022.