Toronto teen Dilnaz Panjwani, 16, has won a national science award for research into chronic fatigue syndrome. The Branksome Hall student was awarded a top prize at the Canada-wide Science Fair in Timmins for her work identifying a possible enzyme deficiency in the illness.
In simple terms, what the Toronto teen has done, according to the selection committee for the Manning Young Canadian Innovator Award, is discover a possible physiological basis for the illness. She has identified a “statistically highly significant” relationship between low levels of a blood enzyme called 2,3 diphosoglycerate (2,3-DPG) and patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. That particular enzyme is believed to have a strong effect on the oxygen carrying ability of blood. If her results are supported by further research, her discovery could lead to a blood test for the disease.
In an interview with the Toronto Star, Panjwani recalled the growing excitement she felt late one night as she began to compute results of a blood test.
“I just kind of looked at (the statistical printout) and I looked more carefully at it, showed my father and my sister and I got more excited when I realized what had happened,” Panjwani said.
“Being an athlete, I have friends who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, and everything they’ve worked toward goes to waste with it,” Panjwani said, explaining why she chose to focus on the study, which took more than 100 hours to complete.
Panjwani said her inspiration came from a 1971 report by U.S. researcher William Oski, who speculated that low levels of the 2,3-DPG enzyme in one of his patients might be linked to chronic fatigue. Panjwani used Oski’s passing thought as a hypothesis and, with the help of her psychiatrist father Dr. Dilkush Panjwani, she assembled a group of patients to test the theory. When her first group of 13 patients correlated her hypothesis, she got another set of 18 patients to replicate the results. The study’s parameters were guided by physicians from the Homewood Health Centre in Guelph.
She now dreams of getting a pharmaceutical company to back her in finding the cause of the low levels of the enzyme.