Name of Supervisor
Dr. Crystal Karakochuk
Year of Study
Program of Study
Food, Nutrition and Health
What motivated you to join the Social Exposome Cluster?
I joined in the first year of my PhD program at the recommendation of my supervisor, Dr. Karakochuk. I was motivated to join because of the collaborative nature of the cluster, the opportunity to network with trainees and investigators from different disciplines, and the opportunity to participate in career development opportunities, such as the annual trainee research day.
What are you currently working on in your research? How does it relate to the Social Exposome Cluster?
I am currently conducting a double-blind randomized control trial, with collaborators from UBC and BC Children’s Hospital, to re-evaluate folic acid supplementation practices for children with sickle cell disease. Our research focuses on the optimization of nutritional care of children, which relates to the Social Exposome Cluster as it addresses an extrinsic factor that affects child health and development.
What excites you most about your research?
I’m most excited about the potential for our research to influence clinical nutrition practice. As a practicing pediatric dietitian, one of the goals of my research program is to identify gaps in our current knowledge and practice, and to conduct research which expands that evidence base. The research we are currently conducting has the potential to do just that.
If you could collaborate with another researcher in the cluster, what kind of research expert would they be and why?
It would be exciting to collaborate with experts in the cluster that specialize in epigenetics and the microbiome. These two fields are outside my area of expertise, but complement our work, since nutrition can have significant effects on epigenetic markers, the microbiome, and overall health and development. In my current research, it would be interesting to delve more into the cellular and physiological changes that can occur during nutrition interventions.
Do you have any recent publications or events that you would like to highlight?
Our team recently published results from a pilot study among children with sickle cell disease supplemented with high-dose folic acid (the current standard of care). In this study, the majority of children had elevated folate concentrations and all participants had detectable levels of unmetabolized folic acid, unused folic acid which can appear in circulation (1). These findings laid the groundwork for our current clinical trial, which will investigate the efficacy of folic acid supplementation, and alterations in folate-related metabolites in children with sickle cell disease during periods with and without folic acid supplementation (2)
What does equity, diversity and inclusion mean to you in your research environment?
I believe that equity, diversity and inclusion are not only essential in the research environment, but also in the populations we conduct research with. Both ensure that we include many different perspectives, experiences, and insights in the research process, and that our research findings are relevant, valuable, and impactful for the wider Canadian population. I believe both are key to a more just and equitable society.
If you had a million dollars to improve child health and well-being in Canada, what would you do?
I would invest in programs that improve food security among vulnerable Canadians. We know that adequate nutrition during childhood is essential for growth and development, yet there are many families in Canada that are food insecure. This can have large implications for the health of children. As a high-income country, which is also one of the largest food producers in the world, we should strive to have stronger support systems in place to ensure every Canadian has access to safe and nutritious food.