Students 16-year-old Michelle Kim from Saint Andrews Regional High School and 17-year-old Leah Kelley

Local student makes mark on cancer research

leah Kelley may have a future in medicine

Leah Kelley explains her summer job with such technical precision that it’s easy to forget she is just 17-years-old.

The East Sooke resident has been spending July and August conducting supervised cancer research inside the microbiology lab at the B.C. Cancer Agency’s Deeley Research Centre near Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

“It’s incredible,” said Kelley, who is going into Grade 12 at Edward Milne Community School. “It’s like going to another country where they speak a different language. You just have to pick it up.”

She is one of four students selected to participate in the competitive high school summer internship research program, which continues until Aug. 26.

Joining her in the labs are Emma Thomson from Oak Bay High, Laticia Davies from Victoria High and Michelle Kim from St. Andrews Regional High in Saanich. Their participation marks the first time four female students have been chosen to work in the labs together.

Since the program began in 2004, four students, who are either 16 years old or in Grade 11 at the time of their application, are selected each year to conduct cancer research inside the centre’s high-tech labs. They must pass exams at the end of the program to receive $3,000 bursaries.

The students provide invaluable help to researchers, who are studying how the immune system responds to cancer, as well as gain unique insight into a potential career path, said lab co-ordinator Siao Yong, a former researcher who mentored students.

“I would say this is the best science class (for them) because you gain experience in the lab and you’re learning beyond what you’re doing in the (high school) classroom,” said Yong. “Some of the material is for first- and second-year university students.”

Past interns have had work published in research journals, while others have gone on to medical school and one is now a Rhodes Scholar, she said, adding that researchers also appreciate the youthful perspective the interns bring with them.

“It’s refreshing to have that enthusiasm.” Yong said.

Every morning, Monday to Friday, the students arrive and don crisp white lab coats before joining in the centre’s efforts to help develop treatments for different types of cancer.

It’s encouraging that researchers, who are playing such an important role, put so much faith in young people, such as herself, said Kelley, who aspires to become an oncology doctor.

“It’s incredible that they’ve given us that opportunity,” she said, adding that she appreciates being part of a team that is contributing to the fight against cancer.

“It gives you hope there will be a cure or multiple cures,” Kelley said.

 

Did you know?

 

Two students, who are either 16 or in Grade 11 at any secondary school on Vancouver Island, may be nominated for the internship program before March 1 every year.

For details, contact your school’s science department or for an application, please visit www.bccrc.ca/dept/drc/hsp.