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2006 Alumni and Full IB Student Wins Award

by Jennifer Pritchett - Saturday, September 28, 2013

This article is courtesy of Telegraph-Journal


A graduate of the University of New Brunswick's Saint John campus has been recognized for her research with plant compounds that may ultimately lead to the discovery of new treatments for breast cancer.

Taryn O'Neill has received the Carol Ann Cole Comfort Heart Studentship Award presented by The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation for the Atlantic region.

The biology graduate, who's now a second-year med student at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, spent this past summer working at the medical school in Saint John, under the supervision of Dr. Christopher Gray and Dr. Duncan Webster.

"We were able to collaborate on a project in which I was able to use the laboratory facilities at the (Saint John Regional) hospital so that I could carry out the (research)," she said.

Her work focused on several plants that are indigenous to New Brunswick, including common cow parsnip, skunk cabbage and yellow water lily. Some of the plants, used medicinally by local aboriginal people, showed promise as anti-cancer properties, she found.

For example, First Nations peoples used the ground-up root of the cow parsnip as a tea for a variety of illnesses, including respiratory ailments, she said.

"We had a huge list (of plants), but it's whatever we could find in New Brunswick to work on," she said.

Despite the fact that cow parsnip didn't turn out to be a good plant for its anti-cancer properties, both skunk cabbage and yellow water lily showed promise for this type of research.

"They are showing very promising activities, especially yellow water lily," she said.

O'Neill, 25, said her research focused on plants that hadn't been investigated to a great extent previously for their anti-cancer properties.

The student said she worked with collaborators not only at the Saint John Regional Hospital, but also in Moncton for the project.

"With natural products research, to be successful, you want to include as many collaborators as possible," she said.

Each year, the CBCF - Atlantic Region Studentship Awards program provides young researchers an opportunity to take their learning from the lecture hall to the laboratory while fostering an interest in breast cancer research. These awards ensure that a young researcher studying in Atlantic Canada will receive funding for their work on a 14-week breast cancer research project.

The award allowed O'Neill to do her research this summer at the Saint John Regional Hospital. The Carol Ann Cole Comfort Heart Studentship Award will be presented in perpetuity to the top ranked applicant of the annual CBCF - Atlantic Region Studentship Awards Program. Cole is founder of the Comfort Heart Initiative, which has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for CBCF - Atlantic Region, and more than one million dollars for cancer research overall.

Since 2006, more than 45 students have received CBCF - Atlantic Region Studentship Awards for their work in the breast cancer field.