University of Calgary

Bio student conference

April 15, 2009

Journey into the unknown

Mike Driedger studied the effects an anti-cancer drug, edelfosine, has on cell membrane structures (lipid rafts) in order to det

Michael Driedger studied the effects an anti-cancer drug has on cell membrane structures in order to determine how cell death is induced. / Photo: Ken Bendiktsen
Michael Driedger is about to have an opportunity that is rare for undergraduate students.

Driedger is showing off his work at the third annual Biological Sciences Student Conference, which starts April 15.

Each year, more than 50 undergraduate students embark on original, groundbreaking, and cutting-edge scientific study: investigations into the unknown.

“Our undergraduate students are encouraged to participate in ‘real research’, working one-on-one with professors and their graduate students through our independent study research courses. We feel that these opportunities expose students to the highest form of experiential learning,” says Jeffrey Goldberg, head of the Department of Biological Sciences. “Every year I am amazed by the high quality of the presentations and the level of scientific maturity achieved by these impressive students.”

For his honours thesis, Driedger studied the effects an anti-cancer drug, edelfosine, has on cell membrane structures (lipid rafts) in order to determine how cell death is induced. This anti-cancer drug targets the cell membrane, while many drugs currently used target the DNA. What is also unique about Driedger’s work is that instead of measuring indirect biochemical changes of cancer cells upon drug interaction, Michael used a laser microscope to visualize the impact of edelfosine, which is still in clinical trials.

“He studied the changes in yeast membranes domains induced by an anti-cancer drug. He clearly saw different patterns, suggesting disruption of lipids rafts by the drug. His work, in collaboration with the lab of Vanina Zaremberg in biological sciences, is significant because it may help to understand the mechanism of action of this drug,” says Elmar Prenner assistant professor in biological sciences.

In many cases, the results of the students’ research are published in leading scientific journals and may, someday, fill the pages of the textbooks or be used to fill pieces of the puzzles of the next great discoveries.

Driedger—who will make his presentation on April 16—is excited about the opportunity to explain his work to other students.

“It’s a chance to show my work, get some exposure and learn from my peers,” says the 23-year-old who also spends about 22 hours a week training on the Dinos swim team.

“Doing the research helped me to develop a lot of critical thinking skills as well as a working knowledge of scientific method. It has allowed me to analyze problems and go about trying to solve them.”

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