Graduate Students

Graduate students are essential to the success of the Centre for Bone and Muscle Health research programs. Meet our fantastic students!

PhD Students

Kirsten Bott

Program: PhD candidate in Health Biosciences

Supervisors: Drs Wendy Ward and Sandra Peters

Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by weak and brittle bones, increasing the risk of suffering a fragility fracture. Inflammation has been implicated in the development of osteoporosis since it negatively alters bone metabolism by increasing bone resorption and reducing bone formation. Kirsten is developing a pre-clinical model to investigate the effects of inflammation on bone structure and bone mineral density. This model will be used to test potential intervention strategies, particularly those involving lifestyle factors. Kirsten holds an Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship-Doctoral (CGS D) through NSERC.

Sophie Hamstra

Program: PhD student in Health Biosciences

Supervisor: Dr. Val Andrew Fajardo

My research focuses on calcium regulation in the heart. Specifically, I look at improving the function of the SERCA pump in cardiac muscle cells by inhibiting the enzyme GSK3 using low doses of lithium chloride. I also look at the effects of cytotoxic stress on SERCA pump function and whether lithium treatment can preserve SERCA activity under stress. The main goal of my research is to improve SERCA function in the heart in the hopes of preventing the development/progression of cardiomyopathy and heart failure.

Danja Den Hartogh

Program: PhD student in Health BioSciences

Supervisor: Dr. Litsa Tsiani

Hello! My name is Danja Den Hartogh and I am a third year Health Bioscience PhD student in the Department of Health Science at Brock University, working under the supervision of Dr. Evangelia Litsa Tsiani.

I am also a graduate student member of The Centre for Bone and Muscle Health.

My research is focused on understanding skeletal muscle free fatty acid (FFA)-induced insulin resistance. I aim to understand insulin signaling at the cellular level, identify impairments leading to insulin resistance and find plant-derived chemicals/polyphenols that normalize the response of the cells and counteract insulin resistance. I hope to advance our understandings of obesity-induced diabetes. Most importantly, I hope to find plant-derived chemicals that can be used to treat diabetes.

In my spare time, I enjoy playing strategy-based video games, board games and going to the movies.

Robert Kumar

Program: PhD student in Applied Health Sciences – Biomechanics

Supervisor: Dr. Michael Holmes

My PhD work will be directed towards the development and establishment of a virtual reality-based ergonomic solution as we venture into the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). Virtual reality technology has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. The achievement of high-fidelity visuals and full immersion are said to lead the charge into Industry 4.0. Given our knowledge of fundamental biomechanics and ergonomics principles, we can begin to implement virtual reality interventions to reduce injury risk across various sectors and promote productivity for the general workforce.

Nigel Kurgan

Program: PhD candidate in Health Biosciences

Supervisor: Dr. Nota Klentrou

My research works to extend and expand the understanding and physiological impact of the molecular adaptations to exercise training in hopes to elucidate novel therapeutic targets for chronic diseases related to inactivity. Recent work from my PhD has focused on bone and adipose tissue cross-talk. By employing murine models and humans undergoing various exercise or diet interventions, our recent work has highlighted a role of a bone derived protein, sclerostin, in regulating adipose tissue growth and phenotype.

Alicia Martin

Program: PhD student in Biophysics

Supervisors: Drs Thad Harroun and Josef Dubicki (Walker Family Cancer Center)

In Radiation Therapy, medical linear accelerators create patient specific high energy radiation fields which are directed at a tumor; depositing a large dose to kill the cancerous cells, but spare the surrounding healthy tissue. These fields are calculated based on radiation profiles created when a treatment center opens, and the machines must be able to reproduce these profiles to within quality assurance tolerances. Alicia has created a computer simulation of these treatments. This model is being used to test if patients receive clinically acceptable doses when a machine is operating at the edge of clinically acceptable during routine quality assurance.

Michael McAlpine

Program: PhD candidate in Health Biosciences

Supervisor: Dr Wendy Ward

Specific periods of the lifespan may provide unique opportunities for diet to have a supportive role in maintaining a strong, healthy skeleton – particularly in a state where bone resorption is elevated. This occurs in pregnancy and lactation and Michael uses a preclinical model to study whether providing flavonoids assists with the recovery of bone after lactation. His research is also involved studying potential mechanisms of tea flavonoids on bone forming cells and has also investigated practical aspects relating to changes in availability of tea polyphenols and related antioxidant activity associated with different steep times.

Brandon McKinlay

Program: PhD candidate in Health Biosciences

Supervisors: Drs. Bareket Falk & Nota Klentoru

Title of PhD work – Nutritional and exercise recovery strategies to improve sports performance in young athletes: The role of protein

Brandon’s current doctoral research focuses on exercise recovery strategies in competitive pediatric athletes across multiple sports. Specifically, Brandon seeks to examine the role isolated and whole food protein sources play during the acute and short-term recovery periods following high-intensity exercise with respect to performance, inflammation and muscle damage. Brandon hold a Mitacs scholarship with Own the Podium and is an intern with the Canadian Sports Institute of Ontario

Jarrett Norrie

Program: PhD student in Health Biosciences

Supervisor: Dr. Shawn Beaudette

Jarrett’s research focus is on spine biomechanics & neuromuscular control. Specifically, Jarrett’s research aims to understand how variability in spine movement may be linked to distinct muscle activation and spine loading patterns. This stream of research aims to identify person-specific (individualized) spine movement patterns, and to understand if these patterns can be adjusted with strength and endurance training. Currently, Jarrett is working on developing custom software to classify spine movements during activities of daily living (i.e. walking, squatting, traversing stairs, golfing, gardening, etc.) based on wearable stretch sensor data. This novel approach will provide a more objective way to quantify spine movement in every-day life. Jarrett’s wearable sensor work is funded through a Brock Research Training Award.

Filip Vlavcheski

Program: PhD candidate in Health Biosciences

Supervisor: Dr. Evangelia Tsiani

Skeletal muscle is a one of the major insulin target tissues and is crucial for maintaining glucose homeostasis. Defects in the insulin signaling pathway and excess free fatty acids (lipids) lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). My research focus is to investigate the effects of plant-derived chemicals/polyphenols on signaling molecules that counteract the impairments in insulin signaling and modulate muscle glucose transport, oxidative stress and inflammation in models of insulin resistance/T2DM. Diabetes is a disease currently on the rise posing an enormous economic burden to our health care system, and therefore new treatment/prevention strategies are highly desired.

Stacey Woods

Program: PhD candidate in Health Biosciences

Supervisor: Dr. Bareket Falk

Project name: Investigating Child-Adult Differences in Discrete Motor-Unit Activation 

 

Synopsis: It has been suggested that child-adult differences in muscle function are related to differences in neuromuscular activation associated with age. Until recently individual motor-unit activation could only be examined using invasive techniques that are inappropriate to use with children. Surface EMG decomposition is a new technology that allows for the examination of individual motor-unit activity from the surface of the skin. Using this technology, this research aims to examine whether children activate their higher threshold (type-II) motor-units to a lesser extent compared with adults during various contraction tasks.

Jenalyn Yumol

Program: PhD student in Health Biosciences

Supervisor: Dr Wendy Ward

Jenalyn’s research is studying how nutritional programming – specifically, diet during early life – modulates bone health at adulthood. The long-term objective of this research is to determine if we can use diet as a strategy for protecting against development of osteoporosis in later life. Jenalyn’s research is also exploring sex-specific responses of offspring to food bioactives via the maternal diet. She is also developing knowledge translation tools that support healthy eating, particularly for bone health. Jenalyn holds an Ontario Graduate Scholarship.

Masters Students

Ryan Baranowski

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Val Andrew Fajardo

My research focuses on examining the effects of spaceflight-induced muscle atrophy on neurogranin content and signaling in the soleus. Understanding the mechanistic perturbations induced by spaceflight and subsequent effect on muscle atrophy can potentially lead to the development of therapeutic or preventative interventions that may ameliorate muscle wasting diseases that affect the public population.

Aurora Battis

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Shawn Beaudette

My current research focuses on diurnal variation in the development of standing-induced lower back discomfort. Specifically, I am investigating how trunk stabilizer muscle activity, ground-force reactions and spine posture may vary between people, when standing for prolonged periods throughout the course of a day. During my MSc, I will be expanding on this research to include sensory biofeedback, including how sensory biofeedback can elicit changes in the biomechanical control of the spine during prolonged standing and other movement tasks.

Madison Bell

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Nota Klentrou

My current work is looking at the impact of COVID-19 on dietary habits and behaviours in post-secondary students. In addition to this, my Masters thesis focuses on investigating the impacts of dietary restriction on bone turnover. Other info: Recent recipient of the Brock Research Training Award

Jessica Braun

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Val Andrew Fajardo

I am currently in my first year of my MSc in Applied Health Science (Kinesiology) after completing my BSc in neuroscience here at Brock. My project focuses on uncovering the role of neuronatin as a SERCA regulator in murine skeletal muscle. More specifically, I’m investigating whether neuronatin is able to increase energy expenditure via the SERCA pump and whether this interaction can be used to combat diet induced obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Riley Cleverdon

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Val Andrew Fajardo

I research the pathophysiology of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Specifically, I am interested in two preclinical models, the mdx and D2-mdx murine models. The mdx model is classically used to research DMD, however, it displays a milder disease phenotype compared to human DMD. The more recently developed D2-mdx model mimics DMD patient symptoms much more closely, however the driving mechanisms behind disease phenotype are yet to be thoroughly characterized. My research aims to fill this knowledge gap by through the comparison of the mdx and D2-mdx models to determine the underpinning cellular mechanisms of DMD.

Darrah Condino

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Wendy Ward

Darrah has always been interested in health and nutrition. Her current work focuses on bone health during pregnancy and lactation, a time when the maternal skeletal undergoes many changes to adapt to the needs of the growing fetus and offspring. Darrah will investigate how bone recovers following these periods of high demand and determine the responsiveness of the skeleton to a nutritional intervention after lactation.

Emily Copeland

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Val Andrew Fajardo

I am currently enrolled in the Master of Science, Applied Health Sciences (Kinesiology) program. My undergraduate research focused on muscular dystrophy, more specifically the protein neurogranin and its regulation of calcinuerin in muscles from the mdx mouse model, such as the soleus and diaphragm. As an MSc student, I will be looking at the regulation of both the SERCA pump and calcineurin in the brain of mdx mice.

Mario Elkes

Program: MSc, Applied Health Sciences

Supervisor: Dr. Paul LeBlanc

Hi, my name is Mario and I am currently in the second year of my Masters working under the supervision of Dr. Paul LeBlanc. Currently, I am interested in exploring the relationship between mitochondrial form and function as it relates to skeletal muscle function. Skeletal muscle is a heterogenous and highly dynamic tissue, and mitochondria are central to skeletal muscle’s growth and adaptive properties. Specifically, mitochondrial form and functioning is highly dependent on the phospholipid profile of its membrane. Cardiolipin (CL) is a mitochondrial specific phospholipid and acts to stabilize the inner mitochondrial membrane necessary for proper functioning of the electron transport chain responsible for energy production. Therefore, alterations in CL metabolism that result in reduced content or aberrant species are detrimental to mitochondria and overall skeletal muscle functioning. Importantly, during skeletal muscle atrophy (aging, disease, bed rest) there are significant alterations in CL metabolism that result in impaired mitochondrial form and functioning. Using a mouse model of muscle disuse atrophy, we hope to further unravel the cellular mechanisms that underlie alterations in CL metabolism during atrophy states.

Paul Goncharow

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Shawn Beaudette

My current work is looking into alternate ways of assessing spine movement kinematics. I am interested in investigating the use of artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms to track spinal movement outside of the lab environment with non-invasive techniques. The goal of my research is to introduce effective low-cost spine movement analysis tools to be used in clinical and other practical settings.

Anne Guzman

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Nota Klentrou

Anne’s research is focused on measuring the effect of cycling duration on bone metabolism. Her research will measure bone markers procollagen type 1 N-terminal propeptide (PINP), c-terminal telopeptide (CTX),the  osteocyte negative regulator of bone metabolism sclerostin, and parathyroid hormone (PTH). The research questions asks whether there is a threshold of cycling duration at which point no additional osteogenic responses of bone metabolism occur, due to mechano-desensitization of bone in an energy replete state.

Alex Johnston

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Shawn Beaudette

I am currently enrolled in the Master of Science, Applied Health Sciences (Kinesiology) program. My current research is focused on the effects of fatigue on spine kinematics, local dynamic stability, and muscular coactivation in elite and novice rowing athletes. In addition to this, I am also running a survey to assess the impact of rowing technique and a combination of other factors on the prevalence of low back pain in elite rowing athletes.

Jordan Langille

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Bareket Falk

Title: Mean Power Frequency of Boys and Men during Isometric Contractions of the Knee Extensors and Wrist Flexors at High and Low Intensities 

Children and adults display significant differences in muscle function and their physiological response to exercise. A proposed hypothesis that is thought to underlie these child-adult differences suggests that children are unable to activate their higher threshold (type II) motor units to the same extent as adults. My research focuses on comparing the surface EMG activity of children and adults during high- and low-intensity sustained contractions to shed light on these possible age-related differences in motor unit recruitment patterns.

James Maynard

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Bareket Falk

Title: Age-related differences in volitional- vs. evoked-force relationship and muscle activation

James’ research examines the age-related differences in volitional activation of ones’ motor units. Specifically, the idea that children voluntarily activate a lower proportion of their motor units than adults. Using volitional and electrically-evoked contractions, James’ research is focusing on challenging the methods currently used to assess volitional activation.

Katie McKee

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Nota Klentrou

Katie researches the nutritional impact of dairy with increased protein content on bone in elite youth female athletes. Specifically, she studies the effect of Greek yogurt consumption on bone metabolism during one week of high-intensity, high-volume training in youth soccer players through the use of biochemical markers.

Larissa Rowden

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Wendy Ward

Pregnancy and lactation impose high demands on the maternal skeleton, and the nutritional status of the mother plays a key role during this time. Larissa’s research will focus on using a rodent model to investigate the current levels of vitamin D and calcium in the standard laboratory diet for growth and reproduction; if the levels of dietary vitamin D and calcium are in excess, the effects of a nutritional intervention could potentially be masked.

Joshua Steven Stoikos

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Nota Klentrou

My current and past research focus was on elucidating mechanisms of cellular crosstalk, specifically as it pertains to bone and adipose tissue. My master’s thesis aims to increase our understanding of the role that sclerostin, a bone derived protein, plays in mediating the regulatory processes that underpin how muscle tissue responds to exercise. My project is focused on how exercise induces change in muscle tissue formation and performance in response to circulating levels of sclerostin present in the body. These findings will allow for a better understanding of how bone tissue, via the protein sclerostin, influences the regulation of muscle tissue and other myotropic factors in response to exercise. My goal is to improve our overall understanding of how bone tissue influences muscle tissue growth and development.

Daislyn Vidal

Program: MSc, Applied Health Sciences

Supervisor: Dr. Paul LeBlanc

Daislyn’s research is based on the role of mitochondrial membrane phospholipids (specifically the inner mitochondrial membrane phospholipid named cardiolipin) in muscle mass homeostasis during overloading. The main aim of her project is to determine if transcription/translation of tafazzin ( the rate determining cardiolipin biosynthesis enzyme) precedes or follows changes to cardiolipin during the adaptive response to overloading of the plantaris muscle and to investigate if these responses are mediated by known contraction-mediated transcription factors, specifically PGC1α and NFAT.

Kennedy C. Whitley

Program: MSc, Applied Health Sciences

Supervisor: Dr. Val Andrew Fajardo

Currently, my work in the Fajardo Lab is focused on the mouse model of Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), the mdx mouse. My MSc project is aimed at discovering the underlying cellular mechanisms that explain the pathological differences between the traditional BL10-mdx model, and the novel and perhaps more clinically relevant D2-mdx mice. My project will determine whether a kinase called glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3) activation may contribute to the differences in disease severity seen in this model further justifying it as a potential target. The goal of my project is to determine which mouse model most closely resembles the pathology seen in humans in attempts to streamline the research on treatment strategies and therapeutics for DMD patients. I am also involved in studies investigating the use of low-dose lithium supplementation to inhibit GSK3 in cardiovascular diseases, muscle wasting diseases (such as DMD) and in muscles subjected to spaceflight (through a collaboration with NASA) as a potential treatment strategy.

Hannah Young

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Wendy Ward

Hannah’s research focuses on women’s health and periodontal disease, a condition which can be managed using sanative therapy to help prevent progression of the disease and resultant tooth loss. Her research is investigating how lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise, predict periodontal health of women previously treated for this disease. Hannah holds an Ontario Graduate Scholarship for her graduate training.

Carly Zanatta

Program: MSc, Kinesiology

Supervisor: Dr. Wendy Ward

Nutrition is a critical element that influences our systemic, gut and oral health. Carly’s research focuses on the effects of prebiotics in periodontal disease and how supplementation with prebiotics modulates the response to sanative therapy – a mainline treatment for periodontal disease and preventing tooth loss. Understanding the effect of prebiotics on clinical outcomes can also help elucidate the connection between oral and gut health.