By Tara Bowie, Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Published: Thursday, May 23
Jessie MacAlpine, a Grade 12 student at Huron Park Secondary School earned a gold and best in category for her cost effective malaria treatment at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix, Ariz. earlier this month.
“I was like crying on stage. It was the best day of my life,” MacAlpine said Thursday morning during her spare at HPSS.
In addition to her first place category finish she earned a sustainability award and $17,500 in cash prizes.
Although no stranger to science fairs, this was the first year MacAlpine exhibited her work on an international stage.
Her project is a product of several years of research starting with developing an herbicide that contains a mustard oil component.
“My goal was at least to place fourth. I wanted to at least place because this was my last science fair,” she said.
MacAlpine’s concept of using mustard oil to treat malaria blew judges and others in the science community away.
Many of the other 1,600 participants from around the world actually live in areas where malaria poses a real life health hazard.
“There were parents, chaperones and other exhibitors that actually had malaria stop by my project and thank me for the work I’ve done so far. That was really powerful and it definitely inspired me to continue with the research,” she said.
If her theory is correct, she estimates the material to produce more than 10-million doses would cost about $30 US – a million times cheaper than anything currently on the market.
“I think the judges were impressed because of the novelty and the cost effectiveness of the drug. There were a lot of students that found many impressive treatments but they weren’t exactly inexpensive. I think the judges saw this as something that could be used in real life,” she said.
MacAlpine wasn’t the only Youth Sciences Canada member to be recognized for her work. The 18-member team received 26 awards including another best in category award earned by a Calgary student who found a way to power batteries with kinetic energy.
“Canadians do very well. Eighty per cent of the team usually comes home with prizes,” she said.
“You want to do well not just for yourself but for Canada.”
Prior to ISEF, MacAlpine received a $50,000 scholarship from the University of Toronto, which is considered the to research university in the country. She will start biochemistry in the fall and continue her research at the McLaughlin Rotman Centre located just down the street from U of T.
She has received approval to start mice trials for the treatment in the fall.
The 17-year-old has filed for patents for her herbicide and the malaria treatment. They are currently in the review process.