Victoria’s Nathan Kuehne is making his mark on scientific discovery — and he’s only 17 years old.
The Glenlyon Norfolk School student has developed a test for Phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder in which the body can’t process part of a protein called phenylalanine.
People with PKU must be on a strict diet. If left untreated, it can lead to intellectual disability, seizures and damage to the nervous system and brain.
Over the past year as part of a school science project, he has developed an at-home test for people with PKU to monitor the amount of phenylalanine in their body.
“The way the test works is that I have a urine sample that I filter with seven different compounds and at the end of those seven steps all that’s left is the phenylalanine and that’s how I do my test,” said Kuehne.
Prior to Keuhne’s test, the only way for a patient to test how much phenylalanine is in their body was to send blood samples to a lab, which would take days or weeks.
“The 3D printed device was able to make the filtration process easy so the average PKU patient could easily at home filter their own urine and do the test to see how much is in their body,” he said.
The Grade 12 student has had a life-long fascination with science. But it wasn’t until Grade 9 when he turned that fascination into proper scientific inquiry.
Most recently, Kuehne picked up a gold medal at the Canada Wide Science Fair, where he presented his PKU test. In the past, he’s also presented a method of detecting tumour-based cancers through a urine sample and a project about charcoal and soil.
“I like the unknown. When you do your research, there’s so many unknowns, you have no idea what the experiment is going to give you and you have no idea what that could mean for the overall path that you’re doing,” he said, adding he enjoys the scientific process as well. “It’s almost exciting to see the results and where your research is going.”
Erin Dallin is Kuehne’s chemistry teacher and mentor at the school.
“He’s a model student. He’s very gifted in sciences. He’s exemplary and really, really good at what he does,” she said, adding that he submits work that’s at a university level.
“The work that he does in research is definitely well beyond his grade level. Quite quickly, he’s able to understand it and ask questions that need to be answered for his research.”
Kuehne will be presenting the test at TEDxVictoria on Nov. 21 at the McPherson Playhouse, Centennial Square and City Hall.
This year’s theme is impact and will explore what spreading ideas does to make the world a better place.
But Kuehne isn’t stopping there. He’s currently in the lab working on another project and hopes to go into medicine in post-secondary school.