Olivier Cloutier said he first began studying chia seeds after his mom brought a bag home and touted their health benefits and nutritional value.
The 18-year-old from Rimouski, Que., decided not to take his mother at her word and began a journey that would lead him to win a prestigious science-fair prize.
'I was flabbergasted. It was a really, really great feeling because I totally was not expecting to have those results.' - Olivier Cloutier
Cloutier explained his process to Quebec AM host Susan Campbell this week. He started by analyzing the composition and molecular structure of chia seeds.
Then he moved on to the history of the chia seed by looking at how it was used for religious, nutritional and medical purposes in Mayan and Aztec cultures more than 5,000 years ago.
"I found that my mom was right and that chia seeds have not only some amazing nutritional value, but there was a special type of molecule in chia seeds that can be extracted and tested to treat cancer," Cloutier said.
He found that certain extracts taken from chia seeds seem to possess some cancer-fighting characteristics — first, that they inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells and second, that they promote cancer-cell death, particularly in a form of chemo-resistant colon cancer cells called HCT116.
"I was flabbergasted. It was a really, really great feeling because I totally was not expecting to have those results," Cloutier said.
Experimental colorectal cancer cure
He's putting his findings to good use, with the help of his chemistry teacher and a small pharmacology company in the region.
"For the past few months I've been working on the development for an experimental cure against colorectal cancer based on the extraction of certain types of molecules of chia seeds," Cloutier said.
His work earned him first place in the Hydro-Québec Science Expo in mid-April. He will also be pitching his project at the Canada-wide science fair happening from May 9–16 in Fredericton, N.B.
His Hydro-Québec prize also comes with a ticket to a science fair in Belgium in July and free tuition for a degree at any University of Quebec institution.
"I'm really, really proud," Cloutier said.