Selina Jessa, a high school student working under Dr. Charles Best at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver has been doing some significant work helping researchers create a possible future cure for HIV and AIDS. The 17-year old from Coquitlam, is working with her colleagues under the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada competition, a national competition that puts high school students with science researchers to develop projects with practical applications for health care, agriculture or the environment.
Selina has been undertaking graduate level research in the field of biogenetics. Her work includes “isolating a specific HIV mutation through advanced techniques, including molecular cloning and DNA sequencing.” Selina’s research was first place in British Columbia for the BioGENEius challenge and Selina is currently a competitor for 2 national prizes in Canada and could win a chance to compete in an international science competition in Chicago.
Basically, Selina explains, there are people with HIV who control their virus with “elite controllers” which means that they force the HIV virus in their bodies to mutate into a less “virulent state.” Selina chose one of these mutations and “engineered it into an HIV protein,” looking at it as an operation or function of a human cell. Selina and her research could help to explain why some patients can control their virus and eventually lead to a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
Selina became interested in HIV/AIDS research after doing some fundraising at school to put Kenyan gurls through school. She learned about how HIV affected member’s of these gurls’ families or the gurl’s themselves. The treatment routine people with HIV/AIDS have to follow often makes it very difficult for Kenyon gurls to attend school. The research project (writes Jessica Barrett of the Vancouver Sun in “High School Student Sheds Light on HIV/AIDS) satisfies Selina’s innate curiosity of the world and Selina’s desire to “make the world a better place,” 2 vital parts of her personality. Selina believes that this is what science does – improves the world we live in. Her experience researching at Simon Fraser University has led her to look at possible careers in virology, immunology or public health.
A possible cure for HIV or AIDS would be a huge medical breath through in the world, particularly as Selina found, in 3rd World Countries such as Kenya. According to the website in 2011, 1, 600,000 were living with HIV/AIDs in Kenya and 62, 000 people had died of it. If one looks closer to home we can look at the statistics from this website which states that in 2008 there were 102 new cases of HIV/AIDS diagnosed in Alberta alone with most of those being situated in Edmonton. In 2008, it was estimated that 58 000 people were living with HIV/AIDS in Canada with 2, 432 cases newly reported in 2007. So, you can see from these stats that not only would a cure of HIV/AIDS have a huge impact in 3rd World Countries such as Kenya but right here at home in Edmonton, in Alberta, and in Canada.
That is why I think Selina and those she is doing research under at Simon Fraser University should be applauded for their work. It is so important in the grand scheme of things to get this awful virus HIV/AIDS under control so less people die of it and suffer the consequences of it such as having to practice a difficult health regime to remain alive and the affects the disease has on the children of those who are affected by it, often in 3rd world countries leaving many orphans and making it difficult as Selina found out, for gurls (and boys) to attend school and live a normal life. In Kenya for instance in 2011, there were 1, 100, 000 orphans from babies to 17 year olds left behind because their parents died of AIDS. For her age, Selina truly has a mature view on helping people and the world she lives in.