Student researcher aims to ease burden of cancer

February 17, 2012 - 12:42am

Angeline de Bruyns’ parents emigrated from Namibia to Canada’s west coast to give their children a chance to experience a different part of the world and expand their opportunities in life.

As she heads toward a career in medicine, the fourth-year Bachelor of Science student at Vancouver Island University is proving that her parents’ decision was a wise one.

De Bruyns, a graduate of Nanaimo’s Dover Bay Secondary School, needs to stop and consult her resume to list the many scholarships, awards and bursaries that she has earned for academic excellence. Her top marks in high school entitled her to a $2,000 entrance scholarship to VIU in 2008. Her strength in academics earned her a full tuition scholarship through the President’s Scholarship for Continuing Students.

For the record, she has further financed her education with the support of a Donald F. Alderice Memorial Scholarship, Irving K. Barber One World Scholarship, Lt. Sardar Jagat Singh Manhas and Family Scholarship, Knights of Columbus Bursary and George Robbins Award.

In May 2011, she won a prestigious $4,500 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council award. That award paid her salary as a research assistant in the Centre for Shellfish Research genomics lab during the summer and fall of 2011. That project involved developing a genomics tool – microarray – to assess gene expression changes of coastal mussels due to various stress responses.

“I chose to come to VIU because of the small class sizes. I think it’s worthwhile to develop lasting relationships with your professors while you are here. Their advice, guidance and expertise is often invaluable.”

“These relationships are enhanced as a result of VIU’s small lab classes and the extra one-on-one time with professors and technicians allows students to hone in on their lab skills at an early stage of their university careers.”

She is grateful for VIU researchers such as Dr. Allan Gibson, Dr. Helen Gurney-Smith and Dr. Catherine Thomson who have shown her the challenges and rewards of lab work.

“Dr. Thomson was an amazing influence as she supervised my research at the Centre for Shellfish Research. My interest in molecular cell biology was piqued by Dr. Gibson. It’s a field that’s so dynamic.”

Gibson is currently supervising an undergraduate research project that de Bruyns has undertaken. Her thesis investigation for this project focuses on the interaction of the chemical myo-inositol with a protein in cancerous cells.

“Dr. Gurney-Smith has been a great research mentor. She’s very enthusiastic and her knowledge is amazing. Things don’t always go your way in the lab but she was very encouraging and helped me work through the kinks.”

Gurney-Smith has high praise for de Bruyns who worked as a research assistant in the genomics lab of VIU’s Centre for Shellfish research.

“It’s been our privilege to have Angeline conduct research in our lab. Not only is she extremely intelligent and motivated, she was also a very positive and hardworking member of our team,” says Gurney-Smith.

De Bruyns has been interested in science since high school. While VIU offered the chance for her to continue studies close to home, it also opened up a world of possibilities.

“I wouldn’t have done my undergraduate studies anywhere else,” she says. “The professors in my program are so passionate about what they teach. They inspire me to pursue career goals which I am truly passionate about.”

One of the highlights of her studies – major in biology, minor in chemistry – was a tropical ecology field school in Belize with Biology professors Tim Goater and Eric Demers and technician Wendy Simms.

She describes the five-week program as an “unbelievable experience.”

“We learned about the ecology of tropical terrestrial and aquatic environments in Belize. We were able to witness what we were learning about in lectures first-hand on excursions into the Belizean rainforest or snorkelling adventures on Caribbean coral reefs. There is so much biodiversity, it’s remarkable. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before,” says de Bruyns.

De Bruyns plans to pursue a Master of Science degree at McGill University in the fall and get a better sense of her goals.

“I want to see whether I’m more interested in doing cancer research as a medical doctor or becoming an oncologist and treating cancer patients,” she says.

Either career path is guided by de Bruyns’ desire to make a difference by helping others.

“Cancer affects so many in the world. It’s such a burden for so many people. I’d like to advance treatments and work toward prevention,” she says.

She already has an impressive track record of helping others. As a Canadian Red Cross Disaster Management Volunteer, de Bruyns is trained to assist in emergency response efforts. For Big Brothers and Big Sisters, de Bruyns volunteers as an elementary school student mentor and was an assistant for the 2011 Go Girls Program.

At VIU, she has worked to support the World University Service of Canada student refugee program and the Awareness of Climate Change through Education and Research initiative that is aimed at global sustainability.

As a volunteer genetics and chemistry tutor with the Students Offering Support (SOS) program, she is assisting other science students and helping raise money to build a training centre in Las Vegas, Costa Rica this May. The training centre will be used by the locals to host literacy classes, youth workshops and a variety of educational, recreational and developmental activities.

“I really have a passion for tutoring. It’s so rewarding to work with students who need support. The best part about SOS, and what sets it apart from other tutoring experiences that I’ve had, is that the fees for tutoring will help others to learn in Costa Rica,” she says.

Despite being busy with research, studies, volunteer work and part-time jobs, de Bruyns makes time for a range of sports and outdoor pursuits. She is aiming to cut her time in the half-marathon and looks ahead to the challenge of full marathons.

Gurney-Smith has no doubt that de Bruyns has the talent and drive to achieve whatever goals she sets.

“I wish her all the best in what is sure to be a glittering career.”

For more information:

Bachelor of Science at VIU:

Centre for Shellfish Research:


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