Diagnosis sparked teen’s cancer crusade Doctor and girl working hard at U of C lab to find a cure
When Colette Benko was 13-years-old she got some scary news: she’d been diagnosed with cancer.
Benko didn’t let the diagnosis slow her down, but rather, it propelled her to try and find a cure for the disease, and at just 14-years-old she started working in the University of Calgary lab of Dr. Aru Narendran, professor of pediatrics and oncology, in hopes of finding that cure.
“It’s quite ambitious, but she’s got lots of enthusiasm and smartness so I took her on to work in my lab,” said Narendran, who’s lab looks for new ways to fight cancer once a patient stops responding to traditional treatment.
Narendran said Benko wanted to research neuroblastomas (not the same cancer she had) — one of the most aggressive forms of pediatric cancers— and he’s mentored her through doing that.
Now 16, Benko has made some significant strides — and she’ll be presenting her research alongside 20 of Calgary’s other best and brightest high school students for the U of C’s Alberta Regional Sanofi Biogenius Canada final competition.
“I got inspired through my own story and families I met through my experience,” she said.
Benko’s research she’s presenting at Sanofi is an inhibitor and its effects on neuroblastoma cells to see if it changes their morphology and protein.
“Pretty much I’m trying to see if I can change cancer cells into less harmful more nonmalignant cells,” she said.
And, she’s had some success. Benko said she’s found “outgrowths” similar to ones used in a current differentiating treatment.
“It’s very good we found this because it’s important we have different treatments that can act as a differentiating treatment for neuroblastomas, because the one we have today has damaging side effects.”
To learn more about Benko’s project, and the projects from other students, people can attend the fair at the U of C’s Alberta Room on Thursday.
colette Benko works at a lab at u of c.