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Aspiring young scientist digs deep into the challenge of diagnosing Alzheimer's

Grade 10 student Crystal Radinski shares results of her research project at Calgary Youth Science Fair April 21-22
April 12, 2017
Grade 10 student Crystal Radinski will be participating in the 2017 Calgary Youth Science Fair at the University of Calgary on April 21. Her research examines the relationship between task-related electroencephalogram (EEG) coherence and deficit in executive function in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

Grade 10 student Crystal Radinski will be participating in the 2017 Calgary Youth Science Fair at the University of Calgary on April 21. Her research examines the relationship between task-related electroencephalogram (EEG) coherence and deficit in executive function in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but for Calgary Youth Science Fair competitor Crystal Radinski, it’s also the key for other young researchers getting started. “No matter how complex a project idea might be, it’s important to stay persistent about the work you do. Science fair is not a test — it is a remarkable opportunity to connect with people who share your enthusiasm and can spark new ideas,” says the Grade 10 student from Webber Academy.

The 55th annual Calgary Youth Science Fair (CYSF) is organized by the non-profit CYSF Society to encourage and promote an ongoing interest in science among Calgary youth. It brings together more than 1,000 students from Grade 5 to 12 from in and around Calgary, making the event one of the largest science fairs in Canada.

Radinski has participated in the science fair since Grade 7. She represented Calgary at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in 2016 for her research on biodegradation of plastics, which won a number of awards including The Society of Toxicology Award.

“Having my effort recognized at such a level was heartening but also very humbling. I met many smart and amazing researchers that inspired me to do more,” she says. “I realized that there is no limit to what could be done and explored.”

New project looks at challenge of diagnosing the most common causes of memory loss

Radinski is back this year at the CYSF with a new project that examines the relationship between task-related electroencephalogram (EEG) coherence and deficit in executive function in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Last summer I volunteered at a seniors' health clinic and discovered that diagnosing Alzheimer's dementia, which is the most common cause for memory loss, is a challenge partly because of the lack of objective instrumental testing," she says. "I challenged myself with a project to discover EEG markers for Alzheimer's.” 

She reached out to Filomeno Cortese, neuroimaging research associate in the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in the Cumming School of Medicine.

“When I first wrote to Fil to help me with EEG study, I already had an idea of what I’d be looking for. I researched PubMed articles on dementia and neurophysiology for several weeks last summer. But I knew I’d have to learn a lot about EEG as a method, signal formatting and analysis, and statistical analysis of the data,” says Radinski. “Fil guided me very patiently. He teaches graduate students at the university and I was very grateful that he agreed to help a much-less-prepared student like me.”

Science fairs highlight research results, foster passion for science

The research combines EEG testing with neuropsychological tests to detect disconnects of the brain sensory and cognitive networks. If EEG markers reflecting dysfunction of cortical connectivity could be detected during cognitive challenge, it could facilitate earlier recognition of Alzheimer's disease. The research project has produced exciting results, including a one-year prospective study based on the findings.

“Crystal came to me with her idea already in place, so I merely guided her towards what could be achievable for a project so large. I gave her my advice on how to collect and process the EEG data,” says Cortese. “Her passion and curiosity reminded me of me when I was a young researcher. She has the qualities of being a fantastic graduate student in brain science.”

Radinski says that science fairs have helped her meet like-minded curious people who are not afraid to share bold ideas — many of whom become friends. She also thinks having the research judged helps her grow. “The judges always provide constructive suggestions on how I can do more and make my studies more sophisticated. I always feel encouraged and supported.”

It’s not all research for Radinski — she also is an equestrian show jumper in her spare time, a passion since she was a young girl. “My favourite horse is Gunnar, a very complex and advanced horse who always pushes me to work harder. He is the drama queen of the stables,” she says.

Calgary Youth Science Fair runs April 21 and 22

The Calgary Youth Science Fair takes place April 21 and 22 in the Olympic Oval. This is the sixth consecutive year the University of Calgary has sponsored the event, which highlights approximately 700 projects representing every area of science. The university is a proud supporter of a number of special awards, funded through several faculties and units. With 550 judges from the Calgary area, the medal round takes place on April 21, with public viewing on April 22.

Find out more information about the fair and how to see the projects yourself on April 22.