Meet the West Island teenager who researches Alzheimer’s disease at McGill in her spare time

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West Island teen works toward a cure for Alzheimer’s disease
WATCH: A West Island whiz kid is working alongside McGill researchers in the pursuit of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. As Global's Dan Spector reports, Maya Mikutra Cencora won $25,000 in funding – and she hopes to continue her studies in math or science – May 30, 2018

Ready to feel like a bit of an underachiever?

A West Island teenager is working alongside McGill researchers in the pursuit of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and that’s just part of the reason 17-year-old Maya Mikutra-Cencora recently won a $25,000 scholarship.

The Grade 11 student says she’s always been a very curious person.

“Some teachers think I ask a few too many questions,” she told Global News.

It’s a quality she channels into everything she does, and something that has helped her demystify that “lazy teenager” stereotype.

READ MORE: Dalhousie researchers on the hunt to fund new Alzheimer’s tool

“I get involved in science fairs, math contests, model UN conferences, writing contests, things like that,” said the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf student.

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At 15, Mikutra-Cencora took an interest in Alzheimer’s. After reading about the disease in a news article, she decided to dig a little deeper.

“Every time I would not understand something, I would try to look something up about that factor in Alzheimer’s,” she said.

“That lead me to reading a lot of different studies at the same time, and through reading all them I started putting together some ideas.”

The teen managed to get the attention of Dr. Claudio Cuello, a McGill researcher who invited her to his lab.

Now, the Ile-Bizard resident works alongside Cuello and grad student Rowan Pentz.

“I’ve already presented some preliminary results at different science fairs,” she said.

READ MORE: Annual fundraising walk for Alzheimer’s and dementia expands to Napanee

At one of those science fairs, she got to explain her work to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He also attended the same school and she said he was very attentive as she spoke to him.

In the midst of it all, she applied for the $25,000 Steam Horizon Award. In her application, she talked about her research, and about another way she spends her free time.

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“Volunteering with other kids, volunteering with intellectually handicapped teenagers. I do activities with them once a week, like arts and crafts, science experiments,” she said.

Mikutra-Cencora was one of the five winners of the scholarship. Brébeufis also a CEGEP, so she will put some of the money toward her studies there.

“I’m not exactly sure what I want to do in university, probably a path toward science or math,” she said.

“I think she can do anything,” said chemistry teacher Christine Adant. “Any field she likes, she will be welcomed into it.”

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