People often believe that age is one of the greatest barriers to success. Some say that the only way to do meaningful work is with a formal education and years of experience. At TKS, we recognize the enormous potential of young people and their ability to make an impact in our world.

This past year, students across the TKS network proved it. As young people, these students work at the bleeding edge of science and technology, pushing the boundaries of innovation and thought leadership. 

Recently, second year TKS Activate student Avery Parkinson and TKS Alumnus Vansh Sethi won Gold and Silver medals respectively at the Canada Wide Science Fair. TKS Ottawa represent! Their research projects prove that people of any age, especially young people, can do incredible things.

Avery Parkinson: Using Cellular Agriculture to Create Sustainable Meat Products

Avery’s project focused on the emerging cellular agriculture industry, specifically working with  lab grown meats. As agriculture is one of the most potent contributors to the climate crisis, this technology aims to dramatically reduce the footprint of growing food. To make lab grown meat, stem cells differentiate to match the characteristics of meat tissue cells. These cells are incubated, then processed into normal, everyday foods that can be enjoyed by everybody.

One of the greatest challenges with this process is ensuring that the stem cells properly differentiate into the muscle tissue characteristics of meat. Otherwise, the quality of meat would be significantly reduced. Cell differentiation depends on gene expression, which is the process of using the information stored in genes to assemble proteins. This process is triggered by the up and down regulation of genes that are responsible for protein coding. Upregulation and downregulation refers to how much the quantity of cellular components increases or decreases when proteins are created.

Avery’s goal: determine what genes are responsible for differentiation in bovine stem cells. 

To accomplish this, Avery created a bioinformatics pipeline to analyze the differential gene expressions of transcriptomes (translated genes) in the bovine stem cell. Ultimately, the genes with the most up or down regulation have the greatest impact on cell differentiation, which will provide insight on which genes to target for differentiation.

In her project, over 22,000 genes were analyzed, and 23 came back as significantly upregulated or downregulated. With this novel discovery, these 23 genes can be selectively activated to observe how much they influence differentiation. Her work brings us one step closer to creating sustainable meat products, and a much greener future.

“My experience at TKS have shaped my efforts in helping me internalize that if I am curious about a problem, no matter how immense or technical, I can develop the knowledge and skills to help tackle it. TKS has also shown me how to build valuable connections with professionals working in the space which were helpful in completing this project,” Avery.

Vansh Sethi: T-cell therapy to fight immune diseases

Three of the top ten leading causes of death are immune related diseases. These diseases include various types of cancer, viruses, and flus, most of which are actually preventable. Vansh was determined to do something about this problem.

Our immune system, specifically our T-cells (white blood cells) are responsible for attacking these diseases. Sometimes though, our T-cells aren’t able to fight off these fatal diseases. To support the fight against these diseases, T-cells can be engineered to be more effective through T-cell therapy. This process enriches the ability for our white blood cells to bind to antigens, and ultimately eradicate them. One of the greatest barriers that has limited this technology is determining how the receptors should look to most effectively bind with these antigens.

Vansh’s goal: specify how the T-cell receptor should look using deep learning models.

Using three machine learning models, he was able to predict different parts of the T-cell receptor. His models had accuracy of at least 80%, an astonishing figure. Vansh says “this novel system can be used to accelerate the T-cell process and increase the scope of what diseases T-cell therapies can be used for.” He adds that “medical professionals can utilize this to quickly find the best T-cell to deal with a certain antigen”, and that “candidates for T-cell therapies can become even more personalized”.

In total, his work means that depending on the patient and their disease, “a specific T-cell can be cultured and deployed within the patient’s immune system, guaranteeing a higher chance of survival.” Moving forward, Vansh aims to do more testing to enhance the accuracy, and further contextualize the results of his work. Ultimately, he’s on his way to provide life-saving services that can potentially impact billions of people world-wide!

TKS gave me the confidence to work on hard problems, and help[ed] me understand that age is not a limitation when it comes to working on complex things. Since the first day of Innovate, TKS has guided me through how to have the right mindset when approaching complex problems, and how to have the confidence to do so,” Vansh Sethi.

What impact will you make?

So, what’s your big idea? There’s no limit to what you’re able to achieve, all it comes down to is your passion, grit, and willingness to succeed. At TKS, there are countless young people just like Avery and Vansh who are determined to make an impact. You got this. 

Ready, set, go!