Last year, Emily O'Reilly won a silver medal at the Canada-wide science fair when she successfully proved her apricot kernel extracts had a toxic effect on live cervical cancer cells.
This year, the Grade 10 student at College Heights secondary school took home a divisional health sciences gold medal for showing a little backyard science can go a long way in leading the fight against cancer.
O'Reilly wanted to test her theory that apricot extracts inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori bacteria which can cause stomach cancer, gastric ulcers, and acid-reflux disease. She started her project on July 2, setting up her own home laboratory to fine-tune her processes before she began working with the bacteria, which had to be specially ordered by UNBC medical lab instructor Yvonne Yaschuk.
Because the bacteria lives only at body temperature in an anaerobic and acidic environment, she had only half-hour with which to work in testing the bacteria-fighting effects of her concoctions. She made 11 different extracts and tested each of them nine times.
"When I measured the results of inhibition of my plates at the lab I was very happy to have large zones of inhibition," said O'Reilly.
Having already invested 300 hours of work into her project, O'Reilly's persistence could pay off in a patented process that would have her name on it. With UNBC's help, she's filed an investigation into whether her discovery can be patented.
"I've connected to research online and I've read many books at the library and I've read research papers and journals at the UNBC library and I was unable to find any documentation to support the specifics of this project," she said.
"If it is worthy of a patent, I would love to create a gel cap that could be sold as a preventative measure for stomach ulcers, gastric ulcers and stomach cancer."
O'Reilly, who aspires to a career as an orthopedic surgeon, plans to continue her research to find other applications for her apricot extracts.