By Wes Venteicher, Tribune reporter
Oak Park and River Forest High School senior Grace Niewijk has developed a new medical use for the slime of the Pacific hagfish, and is pitting her research against 14 other American students and one Canadian in an international science competition.
The winner of the 2014 International BioGENEius Challenge will be announced June 24 in San Diego, BioGENEius spokeswoman Janelle Curtis said in an email.
Niewijk developed a bandage from hagfish slime in an Investigative Research in Biomedical Innovation class at the high school. The slime is part of the fish’s immune system and kills germs, she said.
She submitted a poster on the project to a panel of judges and won first place for the Illinois region, Niewijk said. Her project was then selected for the international challenge, she said.
She said she saw hagfish on an episode of the nature documentary “Blue Planet.” She contacted a specialist on the fish to learn more, eventually developing her project idea, she said.
The fish’s slime contains protein strands that are similar to spider silk, Niewijk said. She combined the strands with absorbent components of the slime, called mucins, to create the bandage, she said.
The June 24 announcement of the competition’s winner will be part of the Biotechnology Industry Association’s Annual International Convention, according to the BioGENEius website.