Personal Project Inquiry Questions
How can Prion Diseases, propagated through the misfolding of the prion protein, be targeted using antibodies, enzymes, and antigen-linking molecules, and how can molecular visualisation software help to build these molecules?
How did you choose your topic?
My Grade 8 immunization unit with Ms. Bolyard introduced me to prions, and I became curious about what they were and why they didn’t work. Prions are, essentially, proteins smaller than any pathogen that fold the wrong way and cause everything to go haywire. I couldn’t believe how something so small – so tiny! – could mess up your brain’s machinery. It was intriguing. So I did more research, forgot about it for a year or two, and then took part in the Breakthrough Science Challenge. While I didn’t focus my research on prions for the challenge, it made me realize that I wished I had. So when the personal project came up, I figured perfect!
Walk me through the process: how did you get started? Did things change along the way? What was the overall experience like?
I knew this project would be a challenge going in. It was a very extensive research process with many steps. I had to first understand how PRCP (Lysosomal Pro-X carboxypeptidase) is manufactured, why it misfolds, and why the brain can’t handle it. There were lots of pieces to put together! The research took me much longer than anticipated, and the research was very volatile. Like, the difference between different experiments and results would shift my research dramatically. I didn’t know anyone in the field, so I started reaching out to biomolecular engineers and authors of research papers. I was surprised when one researcher responded! I interviewed him and it was incredibly helpful.
Rayan's Tips for Scientific Research
"Don’t start your project with a very specific goal in mind,
or else you’ll be looking for something that doesn’t exist."
What are some of the more interesting discoveries you made while working on your project?
I wouldn’t call it a “discovery” – more like, woah! this is really cool – but I was fascinated by how sudden and how random the disease was. It can really just occur in anyone, anywhere. It doesn’t rely on genes. I loved the research. I was halfway through making my product and writing my paper when I found some new research. I was like why didn’t I find this earlier? You never know what you can find. And that’s why I couldn’t quantify how much research I did. I loved the topic and enjoyed it, which is why the number of hours would be scary. I don’t think I’d be able to say. [laughs]
What was the highlight of your personal project?
I think one of the highpoints was definitely – actually, well, I have two – but the interview was definitely one. The interview with the researcher gave me a new outlook on my project and I felt reenergized. The other highpoint was when I got my first model done and I had to review it over and over again. It was then that I had my foundation and could engage with the design process much more consistently.
It was rewarding to actually build the base model and improve upon it, giving me something to build upon. In total I found that personal project gave me an opportunity to explore a topic I am passionate about and build the skills necessary to accomplish it and pursue later projects.
What’s next? Where does your project go from here?
That’s right; I’m not done with this. I actually want to try and synthesize the protein in real life; I want to make it. That would involve bacteria cultures, genetic technology… I was planning on starting it over spring break. I don’t know how pleased my parents will be with bacterial cultures in the house [laughs] but as long as I can keep them away from my younger siblings, right?