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Research - A Foundation for Life


What role does telomeres and telomerase play in identifying cancer? Ask Ciji, whose excellence in studying this question for her Year 12 Research Project awarded her a  masterclass  opportunity at the world-class medial research institute, SAHMRI.


Ciji Vellilappillil from Nazareth Catholic College was one of nine successful applicants selected from schools across South Australia for the masterclass experience on Tuesday 10 December. Selection for the program required a display of passion and extraordinary talent in research, through a one-minute video application.


This is the third consecutive year that the Association of Secondary Research Teachers (ASRT) in conjunction with the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) have run this reward scheme aimed at promoting and engaging students with an interest in medical research and science.


“My grandfather had cancer, so I am interested in what the future may hold in terms of treatment for patients,” explained Ciji. Telomere and telomerase are enzymes within a cell – my research led me to investigate whether they can be used as biomarkers for the prognosis and treatment of cancerous cells,” she said.


To formulate her research, three primary sources were interviewed by Ciji, including Nobel prize winner, Professor Elizabeth Blackburn, who was recognised for her medical discoveries in this area.


According to Chief Executive of the SACE Board of SA, Professor Martin Westwell, there is no more important skill than for students to “develop research skills to navigate a complex world.” The SACE Stage 2 subject of Research Project provides a platform for this to happen, requiring students to use creativity and initiative to study an area of interest in depth, and then present their findings.


“Many students find a great deal of value in the Research Project when they are supported to pursue an idea that interests them and explore it in greater depth,” said Professor Westwell.


To kickstart Tuesday’s SAHMRI masterclass experience, students were invited to hear from past Research Project successes and now PhD candidates. Candidates included Khalia Primer and Sanuja Fernando, who inspired the students with their research journey which, for both, spawned in high school and has extended through the University of Adelaide and SAHMRI.


“Studying the Research Project in school was really what sparked my interest for a research career. I loved that I could come up with an idea and then work independently and take my own direction – which is pretty much exactly what you do in a PhD,” explained Kahlia.


“Even if I did not realise it till later in life, the Research Project taught me so much and provided me with a foundation for my research career - providing me with skills to implement in other subjects and particularly at university,” added Sanuja.


“Even though the content of my Research Project doesn’t relate to the path I’m on now, it was the process of developing agency over my learning that has stuck with me and continued to inspire my career.” she said. 


It is the aspiration of the Secondary Research Teachers Association that in working with SAHMRI, award winning students can further develop their passion for research and their pursuit of new knowledge.


“I hope to expand my knowledge in science in the future. The SAHMRI masterclass was a great experience that has enabled me to better visualise a possible future in research, as well as the impact research has on society” said Ciji.