While many of her classmates spent the better part of their summer at the beach, Risa Convey was touring the Brain Research Centre at the University of British Columbia and conducting research experiments alongside some of the university’s brightest.
The 17-year-old was one of only 10 Grade 11 students across B.C. and Yukon to participate in the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s high school summer research program in July.
“It was amazing, it was a life changing experience,” Convey said. “You come from your classic high school chemistry lab, you’re using basic equipment and they just transplant you into this lab where everything’s really high-tech and science-y and you feel really cool.”
Each student is teamed up with a researcher at UBC or St. Paul’s Hospital.
Convey found out about the program through pamphlets at Ladysmith Secondary School. To be eligible to apply, a student must have a grade of 90 per cent or higher in biology 11 or 12 as well as an 86 per cent average in two additional science/math courses.
“You hope that you’re going to win, but you really don’t know,” she said. “It was a real privilege to be able to head over there this summer and participate.”
From July 2-23, Convey worked under the supervision of Ph.D student Diana Lim, who is currently working on neurological activity and circuitry in the mouse brain.
“Three weeks is a very short time in the science world. So while I was there I got to help her with an experiment where we injected chemical tracers into the brain of a mouse, and then after a period of a week we were able to take a look at the brain and stain it using a process called anti-body staining to reveal where the tracers had gone in the brain,” Convey explained.
“We were targeting the mouse hind limb and we located it using intrinsic optical signal imaging, and we stimulated the animal’s hind limb.”
Convey said the high point of her trip was making the injection into the mouse’s brain. She noted that all measures are taken in the laboratory to keep the process humane and minimally invasive.
“The whole purpose of this and how it relates to cardiovascular disease is, in the brain, you’re looking at stroke recovery and predicting stroke deficits – where it’s going to happen, that sort of thing,” Convey said. “And part of that is by seeing how hind limb was connected to the different regions, we can hypothesize that if we were to induce a stroke in the hind limb area, we wanted to see what other parts of the brain would be able to take over and help you regain function of that limb.”
The students also participated in a number of other activities including observing an open-heart surgery.
Convey said the experience has broaden her potential career path, though she has considered the medical field for some time.
“I realized that neurological research is very cool, another thing about it that I really liked was it’s a broad science.”
Convey wants to pursue a bachelors in science, but as she prepares for Grade 12, she will have a whole year to decide if a career in research is in her future.