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City student spending summer doing medical research

Hillary Wilson studying effects of osteoarthritis on knee surgery

  • Jul. 17, 2013 3:16 p.m.

When it comes to summer jobs, one Red Deer student found a very different one.

Hillary Wilson, 17, who just finished Grade 11 at Notre Dame Secondary School, is spending her summer doing medical research at the University of Calgary.

“I was taking Biology 20 and my teacher recommended I apply to the Heritage Youth Researcher Summer program (HYRS) and get some real life experience,” said Wilson. “We are researching the effects of osteoarthritis on knee surgery.” This involves long days in the lab looking through a microscope at slides of cross sections of the knees of sheep and rabbits and the effects of the disease and surgery on ligaments and other parts of the joint.

“It does provide a ton of real life experience. I had no idea (how involved research is). It really opens your eyes to the possibilities of research.”

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease caused by an injury to a joint or other factors like genetics or obesity. It occurs when the cartilage material covering and protecting the ends of bones begins to wear away resulting in pain, stiffness, swelling and bone-on-bone movement. The Arthritis Society says it affects more than 10% of Canadians, and is the most common type of arthritis. It is responsible for 80% of hip replacement surgeries and 90% of knee replacement surgeries.

Wilson herself is on a couple of school sports teams and dances, so has some first-hand experience with the wear and tear of physical activity on knee joints. And while this is not a typical summer job, she is fascinated with the research and work she is doing on parts of the knee.

Not surprisingly Wilson is thinking of going to medical school after she finishes high school. “My teachers are really supportive, and my parents, and it’s an opportunity to pursue what I’m interested in when it comes to medicine. It’s so important to give back and medicine is something that hugely affects people’s lives. I’m kind of open-ended on medical school, to see where it takes me, but I am interested in fitness and exercise and how they affect the knees and joints. It’s really important in sports and affects a lot of athletes.”

It’s not easy to get selected for the HYRS program.

One hundred and ninety-five students applied. Of these, 22 were selected at the University of Calgary, 22 at the University of Alberta and five at the University of Lethbridge. Each applicant had to provide an essay explaining why they were interested in the program and get reference letters from their science teachers and a community member.

The program runs for six weeks in July and August and on their last day participants have to do a presentation, with a self-designed poster.

The presentation, for their high school teachers and research colleagues, demonstrates what they’ve been doing over the summer and how they were an asset to the program. When school is back in, they also do a presentation to a Grade 11 science class.

HYRS is funded and administered by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions. It offers Alberta students who have completed Grade 11 an opportunity to do hands-on scientific research in labs or research centres at Calgary, Lethbridge and Edmonton universities.

Applicants need a minimum of 85% in math 20, biology 20 and one other Grade 11 science.

As well as a chance to do first-hand research, participants hear guest speakers, take part in field trips to research facilities and meet other students with similar interests. It’s designed to give Grade 11 students the chance to learn about careers in health research. The program is also structured specifically for Grade 11 students, so they then have time to think about university requirements in their final year of high school and make any necessary adjustments to be accepted into their desired program.

Participants are responsible for their own living expenses but receive a (approximately) $2,000 award and can apply for a limited number of housing bursaries.

acryderman@reddeerexpress.com

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