Alberta Cancer Foundation

Young Achiever

ON THE BALL: Braden Teitge, 22, is working towards a graduate degree in neuroscience, while embracing his interest in genetic research.

Photo by Brian Bookstrucker

When a typical person is 22 years old, he’s finishing off an undergraduate degree, starting a career or figuring out how to get a foot in the door. For Braden Teitge, however, his early 20s have been spent on researching a cure for cancer.

As a graduate student at the University of Alberta’s Molecular Genetics program, he had a perfect GPA along with multiple awards from the school and worked as a summer research student in his second year. He calls it accidental. “I was just going on whatever interested me,” he says. “It was sort of a coincidence.”

This coincidence led to research work in two other labs at the U of A and at McGill University in Montreal. At McGill, he researched the genetic resistance to viral infections. Currently, he’s attending the University of Calgary to earn his graduate degree in neuroscience.

While at the U of A in late 2008, Teitge got the idea for Eureka: a student-run journal that focuses on undergraduate research at the university. After pitching the idea to faculty members, he began recruiting friends and editors to contribute in 2009. The first edition came out in March 2010.

“I thought there was a lot of really good work being done by undergraduate students that wasn’t being recognized,” he says. “The faculty didn’t have enough of a cohesive feeling to it. I wanted to improve upon that.” Teitge says he started the project to help students make the transition “from the classroom to the bench.”

He credits his interest in genetic research to his family. “My dad loves problem solving,” he says. Cancer has affected his family directly, as both his grandfather and mother had it, and his grandmother died from the disease before he could meet her.

In 2009, Teitge was a student researcher for Dr. Diane Cox at the Department of Medical Genetics in the U of A Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. With Cox, he performed an analysis of genetic variants in the Wilson Disease gene, where he tested for copper-induced cytotoxicity. “He found some really interesting results,” says Cox. “He’s an outstanding student.”

And he’s an outstanding winner of numerous awards. Teitge has received eight awards in 2010 alone, including the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Cyril M. Kay Graduate Studentship as the top-ranked applicant in 2010. For this award, Teitge receives a stipend of $41,500 over two years to live off of during his graduate degree. Teitge also received the 2010 Dean’s Silver Medal in Science and the International Scholarship Foundation Post-Graduate Award for the same year.

“He sticks to the job, he’s accurate, he’s thorough, he’s critical,” says Cox about her time with Teitge in the lab. “I select the top, most outstanding students. I have been pretty good at picking good students.” She adds that Teitge has the opportunity to author an article, which is rare for a student so young. In November, he presented a poster on genetic resistance to chemotherapy at the American Society for Human Genetics in Washington. “It’s very unusual to have undergraduates go to a meeting,” she says.

Teitge has since handed the reins of Eureka to other students so he can move onto new projects. He is currently a master of science candidate at the University of Calgary working with Dr. Samuel Weiss in the Department of Neuroscience. He’s assisting in the research of the role of C-Myc in Glioblastoma multiforme. With Weiss, he’s working on brain tumour stem cells and how they are thought to cause cancer. “Fifty years of chemotherapy might have been targeting the wrong [cells],” says Teitge. “Cancer stem cells might be causing the disease. We’ve managed to grow a bunch of these stem cell lines and are trying different therapies.”

After hearing a lecture in his third year of his undergraduate degree about tumours, he became interested in the research side of it. “I looked all across Canada and there was [a program] right here in Calgary,” he says.

In spite of having a family history with cancer, Teitge has never asked his family what they think about his work with cancer research. “It always comes up in conversation whenever I go home for Thanksgiving, but I’ve never asked,” he says.

According to the Alberta Cancer Foundation, one in every four men and one in every five women could die due to cancer. Teitge is hopeful that more research can lead to a cure, or at least more progress.

“Any cancer researcher really wants to cure cancer,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of life left to seek a cancer cure. I just want to be a good researcher.”