Australian High School Cancer Competition Winners Remarkable Summer Internship

Late last year in Term 4, 2018, 25 Year 10 students participated in the Australian High School Cancer Competition (AHSCC).  This was QAHS’s first ever attempt at this challenging competition yet the prize on offer was an incredible week-long internship at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute in Melbourne.

QAHS was delighted to hear the news that not only had half of our students earned a certificate, two of our students had also taken out both First and Second place!  With only one point separating them we wish to acknowledge the remarkable achievement of both Stephanie Kallas (1st Place) and Angie Zhou (2nd Place) as the overall winners of the AHSCC.  Stephanie and Angie won a week-long internship over the summer break at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute.  Hear first-hand what each of the students had to say about their experiences.

1st Place Winner – Stephanie Kallas

“The week-long internship at ONJCRI has truly been an amazing experience. I have learnt things which would just not be possible to learn in the classroom, it was an amazing way to see what the world outside has to offer. I was able to gain a quick and deep insight into the theory behind the projects of each researcher. I not only established a high level of respect for the researchers but a high regard for the ambitions and purpose of their work.  It holds so much hope for helping people with cancer. I was able to get involved in lab work and with various cancer samples, testing DNA, RNA and proteins as well as observe different in vivo experiments. Opportunities like this don’t present themselves often so I am eternally grateful. For any current Year 10 students who have the opportunity to take the AHSCC Cancer Competition paper, I highly recommend you give it a go. It is an opportunity of a lifetime”

2nd Place Winner – Angie Zhou

“During the second last week of the summer holidays, Stephanie and I did a week-long work placement at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute as a prize for our winning of the Australian High School Cancer Competition (AHSCC). The AHSCC is run by students at the University of Melbourne. We were tested on questions drawn from an extensive syllabus on cancer.

During the placement, I was assigned to the Tumour Targeting laboratory and got to experience what real life working in the laboratories was like. Within the group, I was supervised by Ingrid Burvenich. She is currently working on a project involving Fn14 receptors, and in turn, a symptom of cancer called cachexia. Previous research has discovered that cachexia (or a sudden weight loss and wasting of the body towards the end of a cancer patient’s life) is linked to the activation of Fn14. Hopefully by deactivating Fn14, it will lead to a better quality of life for cancer patients.

I got to watch the process of culturing cancer cells, as well as several different imaging techniques they use to observe the added fluorescent tags that mark the different types of cancer cells. I also toured the antibody production facility, where scientists create antibodies for use by groups within the centre. But perhaps the part I was most interested in was the work they do with animals. They utilized about 40 mice for testing of their antibody. I got to observe first-hand how they prepare the mice and inject them with the cancer cells, as well as the learning about the ethics surrounding the use of animals for research (which are quite similar to the ethics process we learn here in psychology!). 

Overall, this was a really fun trip and I learned so much about cancer research and how laboratories and research processes work. I’m really glad I got the chance to go and it definitely opened my eyes to the possibility of a future career in research! Thank you to Mrs Rebgetz, Mrs Mitchell, ACHSC and ONJCRI for making this possible!”

Mrs Melissa Mitchell
Biology Faculty