Brian Krug
Brian Krug

Two years ago Brian Krug’s U of G-mentored science fair project on ovarian cancer failed to work as planned. But that didn’t stop the budding scientist. This year the Guelph high school student resurrected that project in a different University lab and ended up taking it all the way to international competition.

His work on the anti-tumour effects of a compound found in green tea was selected for two prestigious contests held in the United States last month.

The lesson?

“Science doesn’t always turn out the way you’d like it to,” says Krug, 17, a Grade 11 French immersion student at John F. Ross Secondary School. “This time things worked out. It shows the value of perseverance.”

This spring Krug won awards at the Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair. He also won first place in the regional Sanofi-Aventis BioTalent Challenge (SABC) in London, Ont., and placed second at the national contest in Ottawa.

Last month he and the first-place SABC winner competed at the International BioGENEius Challenge in Chicago. There Krug earned honourable mention. Later in May, he travelled to California with 15 other Canadians to compete among 1,500 students at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose.

Besides learning about stick-to-it-iveness, he’s also learned the value of scientist mentors at his home-town university. This project was the fifth in as many years for Krug, including four with U of G mentors from the College of Biological Science and the Ontario Veterinary College.

He designed his first science-fair entry in 2006 as a Grade 7 student.

In 2007, he worked with Prof. Reggie Lo, Molecular and Cellular Biology, on environmental pollutants causing potentially carcinogenic mutations in bacteria. That project won Krug his first trip to the Canada-Wide Science Fair.

The next year he teamed up with biomedical sciences professor Brenda Coomber. He hoped to improve a test for blood vessel growth, or angiogenesis, in chick embryos. Although his test didn’t work out, he won awards at the regional science fair.

For last year’s project, he worked with Kathleen Nichols, a PhD student supervised by Prof. Gordon Kirby, Biomedical Sciences. There he looked at the effects of herbal products on hepatic drug metabolism for another project that went to the national competition.

This year he took that earlier angiogenesis work to the lab of biomedical sciences professor Jim Petrik, where he worked with PhD students Nicole Solinger and Lisa Kellenberger.

Krug used a rodent model to study the effects of a green tea extract on ovarian cancer. He found that higher doses of the substance, called catechin, increase growth of endothelial cells, but that lower amounts can inhibit the spread of blood vessels in early-stage ovarian cancer.

Kellenberger, who was one of four Guelph students this spring to receive a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, says the high school student had read the literature in the field and knew how to ask good questions, a key skill for scientific research.

Krug has lost two grandparents to cancer and says anti-angiogenesis therapy “has potential to prevent tumours from growing and spreading to other parts of the body. Cancer could become a much less aggressive and more treatable disease.”

He’s got one more year at John F. Ross, but he’s not sure he’ll have time for another science fair project. Preparing for this year’s contests ate up much of May, not to mention his visits to Petrik’s lab about four times a week from January to March.

Krug plans to become a research scientist and perhaps a medical doctor. He’s considering the University of Toronto or McGill University for his studies. Not U of G? “It’s a great university, but I’ve grown up right beside it, so I’d kind of like to move away from home.”

That said, he’s grateful for the chance to work with Guelph scientists. “My science fair experience and working with mentors has given me a lot of skills and experience that will definitely prepare me for my career in university and research.”

Adds Kellenberger: “Good research and well-thought-out ideas don’t have institutional boundaries, so any help that we’re able to give to talented and motivated students will feed forward regardless of where they end up.”