Winner of the IIDR BASEF Award learns what it takes to be a scientist in Dawn Bowdish's lab
By Chantall Van Raay
July 30, 2012 - Jason Fan grew up at McMaster. As a young child he would come with his father Boguang Fan to McMaster and watch him work in the labs of the Faculty of Health Science’s Gastrointestinal Program. At age three, a passion for science had sparked.
Today, the Grade 11 student from Westdale Secondary School in Hamilton, and 2012 Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair (BASEF) Research Award winner, is working alongside researchers learning some of the most innovative techniques in science.
Midway through a six-week internship in IIDR member and Assistant Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine Dawn Bowdish’s lab, Fan’s love for science and McMaster has grown. “I’ve always loved science, ever since I was three years old when I would tag along with my dad who used to work at McMaster. But I never expected that I would be able to do what I am doing now in my high school years. Working in Dr. Bowdish’s lab has been a dream come true. I have learned so much and I know for certain that I want to study at McMaster, hopefully in the Bachelor of Health Sciences Program. This has been a life-long dream.”
Fan is working alongside Bowdish and her research team learning lab techniques, including how to grow bacteria and culture cells. The research he is involved in explores the science behind how our immune cells detect and kill Streptococcus pneumoniae, the major cause of pneumonia. “This sounds cliché but the work we are doing can make a difference,” says Fan. “We really are finding novel treatments for pneumonia.”
Fan was the first place winner of BASEF’s IIDR prize that recognized the best senior project in infectious disease, drug discovery or human health. His project involved testing ligustrazine, a drug derived from traditional Chinese medicine. He examined if ligustrazine would be a valuable therapeutic for Alzheimer's disease by protecting neurons from cell death caused by oxidative stress. He performed his research under the guidance of Dr. Margaret Fahnestock, Professor, Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster.
“Jason’s project was ambitious for a high school student but with his past lab experience with Dr. Fahnestock we knew he would be up to the challenge,” says Bowdish. “We were really impressed with how enthusiastic he was and how much he had accomplished with his science fair project. He was an easy choice for the IIDR internship prize.”
The IIDR award, valued at $2,000, was one of the fair’s most coveted prizes. “When they contacted me to tell me I had won this prize I was amazed beyond belief,” says Fan. “The research that happens out of the IIDR is highly advanced and I was excited to be even just a small part of it.”
The annual BASEF takes place each spring and recognizes science projects of Grades 7 to 12 students from Hamilton, Halton, Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk. This year 430 students competed for trips, prizes, and scholarships worth almost $140,000, with almost half of the participants winning a prize. A list of winners, including pictures, titles and abstracts of the students' projects is available on the BASEF website.
Photo caption: Jason Fan, left, and mentor Dawn Bowdish. Photo by: Chantall Van Raay