Di­ag­no­sis sparked teen’s can­cer cru­sade Doc­tor and girl work­ing hard at U of C lab to find a cure

Metro Canada (Calgary) - - YOUR ESSENTIAL DAILY NEWS - Lu­cie ed­ward­son Metro | cal­gary

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.

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