By Charlotte Tarver–April Duthiel of Tlell spent the month of July working in a medical research lab in Vancouver. “It was quite an amazing experience to work in a lab alongside mostly doctors and one medical student, when I am still in high school,” said the 17-year-old QCSS student.
Ms Dutheil was selected to take part in the Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC and the Yukon’s twelve year old high school summer research program. She was the first student from the islands to participate.
The Vancouver lab is run by Dr. Casey Van Breemen, who is trying to develop a drug to alleviate the effects of Marfan’s Syndrome, a life-threatening genetic condition that damages connective tissues and enlarges the heart’s aorta, causing it to split and leak. His research is funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Ms Dutheil was trained to do investigations into the syndrome. She conducted experiments by adding drugs to Marfan-affected mice aortas and she dissected aortic aneurisms. “It was overwhelming to be doing this (the work),” she said. “Dr. Van Breeman started his research because he had a friend who died from the condition.”
The mice used in the research are humanely treated, according to Ms Dutheil and hard to get. “They paid $500 for one mouse and bought two – they breed them and the regulations are very strict.”
Marfan’s Syndrome causes irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath and tiredness and affects people early in life. There are external physical manifestations such as long limbs, the person tends to be tall, and the chest is either convex or concave. Current drugs and treatments are not that effective.
Ms Dutheil also got to ride along in an ambulance for 12 hours one night. The first call was hard, but she built up an immunity to blood. She also observed open-heart surgery on a five year old boy at Children’s Hospital. She met him the next day and said, “its amazing how quickly he bounced back.”
“I knew I wanted to go into medicine but seeing the surgery confirmed my wanting to become a doctor,” April said.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation paid all expenses and Ms Dutheil lived in a dorm at UBC.
Would she do it again? “Definitely”, she said, ” the lab asked me to come back. It opened a lot of doors to me.”
Her dream and goal is to go to medical school after graduation and then come back to the Islands to practice medicine.
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