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Teen wins accolades for low-cost HIV test

Nicole Ticea of Burnaby with her supervisors, Gursev Anmole and Dr. Mark Brockman at the Viral Patheogensis and Immunity Lab at Simon Fraser University where she developed a relatively low-cost, rapid test for HIV for use in newborns and people within three months of transmission. - Contributed Photo
Nicole Ticea of Burnaby with her supervisors, Gursev Anmole and Dr. Mark Brockman at the Viral Patheogensis and Immunity Lab at Simon Fraser University where she developed a relatively low-cost, rapid test for HIV for use in newborns and people within three months of transmission.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

The fact a Burnaby resident has developed a rapid test for HIV is impressive enough.

That the test is low cost and has the potential to assist people in developing countries, even more so.

But perhaps most impressive is the inventor herself. She's only 15 years old.

Nicole Ticea lives in the Lakeview neighbourhood of East Burnaby and is in Grade 10 at York House School in Vancouver.

Her HIV test recently took top prize at the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada, a national science fair, qualifying her to compete for Canada at the International BioGENEius Challenge in San Diego June 22 to 25.

Current HIV tests require complex heating and cooling equipment that can cost $100,000 apiece, Ticea said. Her test, on the other hand, uses a chemical reaction to detect the virus.

Ticea said the project was a "melding of two ideas." One came from an article she read about the significant benefits of starting drug therapy on HIV positive newborns right after birth. The other was a desire to create an HIV test that required few resources and could prove useful in developing countries where resources are scarce.

After coming up with her concept, she contacted several local HIV researchers. Dr. Mark Brockman agreed to let her use his lab at Simon Fraser University. That's where she developed the test under the supervision of Brockman and graduate student Gursev Anmole.

The test is capable of detecting the virus that causes AIDS in newborn babies up to 18 months of age and in adults within three months of HIV transmission. The earlier patients can receive anti-retroviral therapy, the better the chances of suppressing the infection and improving survival rates.

Ticea doesn't recall the actual "eureka" moment when she proved her test could work, but said, "It was a really long journey getting there."

She stressed that it will take much more work before the test can become commercially available, but she's excited to get back to the lab to help take it to the next stages of development.

Ticea likely comes by her scientific acumen naturally. Her mother is a family physician and her father a software engineer.

"I love science and I want to go into medical research as a career," she said.

Gursev Anmole, an SFU grad student in molecular biology, served as one of her supervisors and came away impressed, calling Ticea "very, very bright" and "very advanced."

The technology she used has been around for some time but Ticea's test is the first time it's been applied to HIV testing, he said, adding test results are available within minutes.

For the idea to come from a high school student's science fair project is "amazing," said Anmole, 24.

"When I was in high school the last science fair I remember was something along the lines of making volcanoes with baking soda and vinegar," he said with a laugh.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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