Another U of C medical marvel

By Eric Fung

Medical research at the University of Calgary has once again been recognized for outstanding progress.

On Tue., Nov. 27, the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research awarded the Lionel E. McLeod Health Research Scholarship to Jacob Jaremko, a combined MD-PhD student in Biomedical Engineering in the Faculty of Medicine at the U of C. This award is given annually to an outstanding student at the Universities of Alberta, British Columbia, or Calgary pursuing full-time research in human health, and consists of a $7,600 stipend and a variable research allowance.

"This is a major health research award," said AHFMR spokesperson Janet Harvey. "It goes a long way in supporting a researcher’s work. It is a very competitive award, based on a student’s previous work and their promise for the future."

Jaremko’s research is in the detection of scoliosis, an unnatural curving of the spine. The common condition afflicts adolescent girls and is treated with back braces or surgery in the most severe cases. Currently, X-rays are used to detect scoliosis and monitor its progression. However, because of their extensive application, patients are regularly exposed to high doses of radiation, which increases the risk of certain types of cancer. Jaremko is working on an alternative method of detection, involving surface scanning of the torso with low-power lasers. The 3D image generated by these lasers would be related to the underlying spinal deformity, providing an idea of a patient’s condition without exposing them to harmful radiation.

"The $7,600 is about the same amount as a year of medical tuition," joked Jaremko. "The [Canadian Institutes of Health Research] pays enough for the rent, and then the stipend pays for my tuition, so that covers this year."

Jaremko’s project is presently in the fourth year of a nine-year plan. After six years, multi-centre clinical trials will begin, and a commercially viable product will be ready at the end of the nine years. Jaremko’s work is supervised by Dr. Ronald Zernicke, Dean of Kinesiology and Jaremko gives him much credit.

"I really want to give recognition to Dr. Zernicke," said Jaremko. "It’s really because of him that I found out about this award."

Jaremko, a native Calgarian, began his university career in Civil Engineering on a Chancellor’s Club scholarship and became involved in medicine when his sister was diagnosed with diabetes. He entered the Faculty of Medicine and began his MD-PhD program in 1997, and is currently in his fifth year of the program. Jaremko plans to complete his medical residency in Canada and become a clinical researcher. He is considering focusing on fields such as orthopedics and radiology to pursue his interest in scoliosis detection.

"It was my little sister that got me interested in medicine," mused Jaremko. "It really got me thinking about making things better for others."