My research examines the impact of diet on gut microbiota-brain interactions. Millions of microorganisms—the gut microbiota—colonize our digestive tract. These microbes influence digestive, immune, and metabolic systems. Recent work has revealed that gut microbes also impact the nervous system. However, the exact mechanisms and interactions between the gut microbiota and brain are largely unexplored. I specifically study the impact of malnutrition on brain and behaviour. Malnutrition accounts for nearly half the deaths of young children. Chronic malnourishment impairs brain development and increases the risk of mood disorders. Dietary interventions often fail to fully reverse this damage. In addition to physical and neurological consequences, malnutrition dramatically alters the microbiota community, likely contributing to impaired gut microbiota-brain function. The ultimate aims of this research are to (1) reveal key mechanisms involved in gut microbiota-brain interactions and (2) identify microbial therapies that, combined with dietary intervention, improve health outcomes in malnourished communities.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
While exploring various graduate programs, I searched for microbiome research labs conducting innovative research. I had an interest in gut microbiome-brain projects, so the university I chose needed to foster interdisciplinary collaborations. I was thrilled when Dr. B. Brett Finlay invited me to interview because I knew of his lab's excellent work examining the microbiome and health. I was also excited to visit the beautiful UBC campus. Despite interviewing during a Vancouver downpour (i.e. no glorious mountain views), I was impressed by the research and community I observed within the Finlay Lab and UBC Microbiology and Immunology (M&I) Department. My current project includes a collaboration between the Finlay Lab and researchers at the UBC Centre for Brain Health. I am very pleased with my decision to study at UBC - a renowned research university which, incidentally, does have beautiful mountain vistas most of the year!
What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?
During undergrad, I was accepted into research internships at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and Harvard University (Peter Turnbaugh Lab). The latter project developed into my undergraduate research thesis for the JN Andrews Honors Program at Andrews University (AU). I continued benchtop science working as a laboratory teaching assistant for the AU Biology Department. These experiences not only provided valuable laboratory experience, but also developed writing and critical thinking skills.
What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?
I try to spend time in nature during the weekend. Whistler, Grouse Mountain, Capilano Reservoir, Whytecliff Park, Lynn Canyon, Pacific Spirit Regional Park--there is so much beauty to explore around Vancouver. I also play music (viola, piano) and write (TheSkope.com). In addition, the Museum of Anthropology and Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC are a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Pursue an abundant life. Explore opportunities to improve personal wellness and serve your community. Secondly, remember that everyone experiences failures. Failures often equip us with more knowledge, resilience, and new opportunities than momentary successes. So be kind to yourself. You will be ok.