Arjun Nair bagged the top prize of $5,000 in this year’s Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada.

A 16-year-old Kerala-born student in Canada has amazed experts with cutting-edge research into an experimental therapy that deploys nanoparticles of gold to kill cancer cells.

Arjun Nair, a native of Neeleswaram in Kasaragod district who is a high school student of Webber Academy at Calgary in Alberta province of Canada, won the top honour on Tuesday in the 2013 ‘Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada.’

The challenge gives high school and general and vocational college students across Canada the chance to pour their creativity, curiosity, and scientific skills into cutting-edge research projects that tackle some of the day’s toughest challenges — from cancer and Alzheimer’s to crops and environment.

Arjun was awarded the top prize of $5,000 by a panel of eminent Canadian scientists at the Ottawa headquarters of the National Research Council of Canada. The prize was presented to him by Canada CEO of Sanofi Jon Fairest.

His research, which a panel of expert judges called “world class master’s or PhD-level quality,” also won a special $1,000 prize that is awarded to the project with the greatest commercial potential.

Communicating with The Hindu here over the Internet from Canada, Arjun said his vision was to help science develop a nano-bullet to defeat cancer.

He showed how an antibiotic could overcome the defences cancer deployed against therapy and make the treatment more effective.

These bullets were formed by gold nanoparticles that, when injected into a patient, accumulated in cancerous tumours.

Using light, the gold nanoparticles rapidly heated up in the tumours, killing only the cancer cells.

Arjun said he had spent two years working on his idea, including the past year between Simon Trudel’s and David Cramb’s nanoscience labs at the University of Calgary. It was rare for a high-tech lab to allow a high school student to work with its expensive equipment, but Dr. Cramb, Dr. Trudel, and lab manager Amy Tekrony provided access and all-important mentorship, he said.

“I have been doing science fairs since grade 4, and in grade 9, I had the opportunity to attend the Canada Wide Science Fair. There I saw many young kids such as myself who were doing scientific research in universities and that inspired me. I then looked at cancer because I had known people who suffered adversely in response to chemotherapy, and I wanted to explore a treatment method that could prevent those side-effects. That had me researching photo thermal therapy and had me tackle one of the challenges that the treatment method faced,” he told The Hindu.

Arjun’s father is a supervisor in the IT Department at Calgary and his mother an environmental advisor for Suncor Energy in the same city.

Arjun will now compete for Canada on April 22-23 at the International BioGENEius Challenge, conducted at the annual BIO conference in Chicago, U.S.