Vancouver high school student develops early-stage HIV test

With the help of her SFU mentors, Mark Brockman, a professor, and Gursev Anmole, a student of Brockman, York House student Nicole Ticea has scored big in a major competition and the lab. Simon Fraser University

A Grade 10 student from Vancouver who has developed an early-stage HIV test is headed to Ottawa to compete against other young scientists in an international competition.

York House School student Nicole Ticea has developed a point-of-care HIV test using an isothermic nucleic acid amplification system, Simon Fraser University announced Thursday.

With the help of SFU  graduate student Gursev Anmole and associate professor Mark Brockman, Ticea proved her test could analyze a pinprick of blood on a lab chip to identify quickly whether someone has been recently infected with the virus.

The test, touted as being nearly as simple as a pregnancy test, won first place in this year’s B.C. Regional Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge.

Ticea will now travel to Ottawa to compete against students from all over Canada in the national final on May 22.

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The top two national winners will go on to the International BioGENEius Challenge in San Diego this June to compete for a USD $7,500 award.

Ticea said the project took hours of scientific research and lab experiments, which she juggled along with schoolwork, sports and extracurricular activities.

But she said all the hard work, and even giving up her social life, was well worth it.

“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.”

Anmole said Ticea’s test could be invaluable in remote regions of countries in Africa, where there are little or no sophisticated lab facilities.

“Nicole’s work really made me realize what a big difference a fast easy-to-administer test for early stage HIV infection could make in prolonging, if not saving, thousands of lives in developing countries,” he said.

While she is already a health scientist in her own right, Ticea dreams of making future discoveries that will improve people’s lives.

And she may be in exactly the right place to realize her dream.

Vancouver is home to the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDs, an organization lead by Julio Montaner, who was named a global leader in HIV/AIDS research in 2013 by the Canadian Medical Association.

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The fastest HIV test in the world is also made at Richmond-based bioLytical Labrotories.

Coincidentally, a York House School alumnae heads up the sales team for bioLytical’s INSTI test, a 60-second point-of-care system that has seen sales growth almost as rapid as the test itself.

Assistant director of sales and marketing Emaleah Shackleton said test sales reached $5.44 million in 2013, up 91 per cent over their 2012 revenue of $2.85 million.

“All guidelines are moving away from testing ‘high risk’ individuals to routine testing for everyone,” Shackleton said. “There should no longer be missed opportunities to diagnose HIV and get people on treatment as early as possible. Using INSTI, you can be tested at the dentist, ER, mobile testing van, clinic, jail, anywhere, quickly and accurately.”

The popularity of rapid HIV testing is good news for Ticea, whose expertise may already be in demand.

“How long until Nicole graduates? When can she start?” Shackleton said.

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