In the Spotlight: Anchita Shonak

Renert School students have so much talent. Frequently we are so busy focusing on teaching and learning that we forget to showcase our students’ successes. In the SPOTLIGHT series we shine a light on our students, one at a time, and share with the community the joy of seeing our students become all they can be.

In this SPOTLIGHT, we are proud to showcase the very many accomplishments of Anchita Shonak, a Grade 12 student at Renert School. During the past 4 years Anchita has displayed an immense passion for Biology, and (more specifically) for the use of stem cells to cure Osteoarthritis (OA). Anchita explains: “Many family members of mine are affected by osteoarthritis, and so I decided to do a science fair project last year about current treatments for the condition, focusing on stem cell therapy.” After presenting at Calgary Youth Science Fair 2016 (and winning a gold medal), Anchita had many questions concerning OA and wished to research it further. She reached out to Roman Krawetz, who runs the University of Calgary lab at which the experiments Anchita looked at were done. Roman was gracious enough to offer Anchita a summer studentship so she could learn more about OA through a hands-on approach, doing real science in the lab (and besides, reading 200-page scientific papers is only appealing for so long…:

“When the summer arrived and I began working at the UofC lab, I met my amazing mentor, Saleem, who has taught me mostly everything I know and is always open to any questions I may have. Same can be said about all the other masters and phD students at my lab, who are some of the kindest, most driven and inspirational people I have met! Through interactions with them, I have learned many things, not the least of which is that you can’t be a perfectionist with real science because something is always bound to go wrong… Everybody would just laugh at me for thinking I was going to make it through the summer without making mistakes.”

Anchita spent the summer assisting Saleem with his project of testing the effects of injectable OA treatments on the bone morphology. Through this experiment, she focused specifically on lubricin, which is a glycoprotein found naturally in our knee joints and eyes. In Anchita’s words: “Lubricin is the reason why our eyelids don’t get stuck to our eye balls and has already shown to reduce the symptoms of pain, inflammation, and cartilage breakdown that are associated with OA. Our focus on bone morphology was guided by the fact that the condition is multifactorial and affects different tissues in the joint.”

Working on all the aspects of the experiment (injections, scans, and computer analysis) throughout the summer, Anchita wanted the involvement to continue during the school year as well: “I asked Roman if there was any way I’d be able to go in during the school year. Fortunately, he found a way for me to volunteer for a few hours a week. During the time Roman worked the logistics at the university, I approached Dr. Renert and asked if it would be possible to work at the lab on Choice Fridays and he approved the idea, which was amazing!”

Finishing up the experiment took a few months. “Our research showed that respective degeneration of cartilage and bone in OA may actually be connected, which led to many questions about current treatments and how future research should be focused on both factors together and not separately.” With all that experience, Anchita was off to the Calgary Youth Science Fair yet again:

“During spring break 2017, I organized my jumble of knowledge and results onto a poster and went to CYSF 2017 to end up doing much much better than I had last time. My participation in the experiment made me more passionate and knowledgeable in my presentation and even got me my first award ever. I received a CYSF Director’s Award and was chosen as an alternate for the Canada Wide Science Fair. This meant a lot because I finally felt that I improved in a small but significant way. The awards and medals weren’t even my favourite part of the CYSF weekend, it was the public day, where I got to to present to athletes, surgeons, and people affected by OA. It was so cool. Telling them about me and my peers’ research was so gratifying because of the interest they showed and the questions they asked. Many people told me to just keep doing what I’m doing, which felt pretty nice; I felt I am doing something that is worthwhile.”

Renert School is extremely proud to support tomorrow’s researchers and scientists. Anchita and her family are very grateful to the school for the opportunities that Anchita was given, as Mr. Raj Kumar, Anchita’s father wrote to us:

“All this would not have been possible without the help and support Anchita received from the school. We would like to thank Mr. C for his continuous support, guidance and constructive feedback in preparing Anchita for the CYSF. Special thanks to Doctor Renert for making special arrangements on choice Fridays and for rescheduling the biology classes in the morning so that she could work in the lab on Fridays.”

Although we are sad to be losing Anchita at the end of the year as she graduates, we are looking forward to her continued future success as she goes on to make the world a better place, one cure at a time. Congratulations Anchita!