Montreal teen makes major discovery in relapsed lymphoma patients

Scientists are now closer to understanding why some lymphoma patients relapse after undergoing chemotherapy — all thanks to a 16-year-old Montrealer.

'What she's done is just incredible. It's incredible, truly,' says McGill University researcher

Melissa Lu's discovery qualified her for the Canada Wide Science fair.

Scientists are now closer to understanding why some lymphoma patients relapse after undergoing chemotherapy — all thanks to a 16-year-old Montrealer.

Melissa Lu, a student at the all-girls school The Study, identified a common gene found in people diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and who do not respond to traditional therapy. 

Lu then wanted to find out if that the specific gene, known as the RASGRP4, also produced mutated proteins. 

And she did.

"I used an inhibitor to target part of the pathway and block it and found that the mutated cells were more sensitive than the non-mutated cells," Lu told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Lu was one of the big winners at the Super Expo-Sciences Hydro-Québec, which brings together some of the best science fairs across the province.

Her win qualified her for the Canada Wide Science fair, which runs from May 15 to May 20 at McGill University.

A guiding hand

Science fair student Melissa Lu and her mentor Dr. Koren Mann. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)
Lu had some help along the way and said the project would have been impossible without her mentor Dr. Koren Mann, project director at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research and an assistant professor of oncology at McGill University.

"What she's done is just incredible. It's incredible, truly," said Mann.

Lu is hopeful the research can be a stepping stone towards a more targeted approach than chemotherapy, which kills both cancerous and non-cancerous cells. 

Still, both Mann and Lu admitted much more research was needed before reaching any definite conclusions. 

Lu found there were fewer cells after inserting the inhibitor into the cancerous ones.

"You could have a fewer number because you killed them or because you stopped them from growing as fast," said Mann.

"That's what we're trying to figure out right now."


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