British Columbia

B.C. Grade 12 student wins prestigious scholarship, hopes to study brother's illness

Ella Chan's brother battles nephrotic syndrome, an auto-immune disease that attacks the kidneys. She's now become the first British Columbian to win the prestigious STEAM Horizon Award — a $25,000 scholarship that recognizes the work she's done to raise awareness.

Ella Chan's brother battles nephrotic syndrome, an auto-immune disease that attacks the kidneys

Ella Chan, a grade 12 student from Glenlyon Norfolk School in Victoria, hopes to study her brother's autoimmune disorder after receiving a $25,000 scholarship. (Stem_files/Instagram)

Ella Chan knows how hard it can be to see a loved one battle an auto-immune disorder.

When she was 12 years-old, her younger brother Ethan was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome — a disorder where the patient's body attacks the kidneys. Symptoms can be debilitating, and lead to kidney failure.

"Just seeing how it's impacted my brother as one patient — I think in the future I want to help as many as people as possible, especially with his condition," she told host Gregor Craigie on CBC's On the Island.

Ethan's battle drove Ella to understand as much as she could about the condition, and she's since become immersed in pharmacology and the sciences.

She started her own YouTube channel, which helps educate kids and raise awareness about nephrotic syndrome.

And now, the work she's done has been recognized in a big way — she's the first British Columbian student to win the prestigious STEAM Horizon Award which honours high school students demonstrating leadership and innovation.

Chan says she wants to make science education more accessible to younger students who might be intimidated by it. (STEM Files)

Nephrotic syndrome

Chan's brother was eight-years-old when he was diagnosed with the auto-immune disorder.

"Just reading up on his condition with my parents, it became really clear really quickly that there wasn't that many options for treatment — especially for auto immune conditions like his," she said.

Nephrotic syndrome patients experience improper filtration of the blood, and protein often leaks into the urine. The symptoms can be especially hard on children.

"It's a very serious condition and it depends on the patients individual condition ... but it can be quite damaging to the patient," said Chan.

Learning about the disorder and understanding how it's treated inspired Chan to raise awareness to other kids. She started her own YouTube channel, the Sci Files, which evolved as her interest in sciences grew.

Now in Grade 12, Chan produces monthly videos that teach children about biology, physics, and chemistry, while still advocating for nephrotic syndrome patients.

"It's aimed mainly toward young children and has activities that explains science to them at an easier level," she said.

That work helped her win a STEAM Horizon Award. Chan was selected among four other recipients for the $25,000 scholarship to be put toward post-secondary education.

"I hope to go into pharmacology — which is the research and development of new drugs for treatment of conditions," she said. "I hope to research auto immune conditions like his, providing less invasive treatment options hopefully."

On top of that, she's also received a $40,000 entrance scholarship at the University of British Columbia, where she'll begin her post-secondary career.

"I know exactly how hard it can be, on both the patient as well as the family and the community — so I really want to try and help these patients in the future."