Science Fair Project Focuses on Too Much Fe

Posted January 29th, 2017 by Canadian Hemochromatosis Society

Calgary students from grades 5 to 12 are invited each year to  participate in Canada’s largest science fair, organized by the Calgary Youth Science Fair Society to promote and encourage ongoing interest in science. Grade 10 student Nabiha Ansari chose Hereditary Hemochromatosis as the topic for her non-experimental research project for her school’s fair, with the goal of making it into the Calgary Science Fair.

Q. What was the goal of the project?

A. The goal of this project was to find out more about the disorder. I also wanted to raise awareness about hemochromatosis after I found out that it was commonly under-diagnosed.   My research question was: What effects does hemochromatosis have on people and their bodies?

Q. Why did you choose hemochromatosis as the topic?

A. I had not heard anything about hemochromatosis before. I knew that iron was an essential nutrient in our bodies and that a lack of iron would cause anemia. I did not know that too much iron would be a bad thing for the body. I started researching and came to know that it was very common especially in North America/Europe and that most people suffered because it was not diagnosed until very late stages. I wanted to see how I could help.

Q. What did you learn about hemochromatosis?

A. I learnt that hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation in the HFE gene. An individual must inherit the gene from both parents for it to cause hemochromatosis. If an individual inherits only one copy of the gene, then they are not affected but are carriers, meaning, they may pass it on to their children. I learnt that the early symptoms including fatigue, joint pain, irregular heartbeats, discolouration of skin, were very similar to many other conditions as well, so hemochromatosis was not the first diagnosis. However, once hemochromatosis is diagnosed, the treatment is very simple, there are no medications or injections involved, just phlebotomy, the process of removing blood from the body. This causes the iron level to decrease. Other precautions would be dietary as well as genetic testing of close family.

Q. What did you conclude from the project?

A. In conclusion, I learnt that hemochromatosis is a very real disorder that is affecting many people around the world, and especially those of European descent. I hope that by doing this project, I am helping in spreading awareness about hemochromatosis. I want to research further and find a way to diagnose this disorder earlier, so that we can prevent the many complications that occur as a result of untreated hemochromatosis. My aspiration is to become a doctor, and now that I know about this, I want to become a doctor who will consider the symptoms and help in diagnosing hemochromatosis earlier, and by doing so possibly save many lives.

Q. What feedback have you received from your teacher and fellow students?

A. My school science fair will be held on January 26th, so I have not yet received any marks. However, I was discussing my project with my teacher and he said that this was a good project, unique, and showing the other side of iron amounts in the body. I also showed it to my fellow students and friends and they too liked it. I hope that the judges of the science fair like it as well.

We also hope the judges like Nabiha’s project and wish her the best of luck! After her term exams are over, Nabiha wishes to continue helping to raise awareness of hereditary hemochromatosis through local projects. We thank her for choosing to volunteer her time to support the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society!

**Update on Nabiha’s results: Unfortunately Nabiha did not make it into the Calgary Youth Science Fair, but she did a great job informing the judges and students about the often unknown side of iron: there is such a thing as too much iron. Nabiha is already planning next year’s science fair project, and it may be about finding ways to diagnose hereditary hemochromatosis earlier. We think we have a future scientist in our midst!