Brock’s newest Canada Research Chair studies early nutrition and bone health

Wendy Ward

Wendy Ward

Preventing the debilitating effects of osteoporosis when we’re older could in part come down to what we eat as infants.

Research done by Brock’s new Canada Research Chair, Wendy Ward, shows that early diet could help lead to a lifetime of healthier bones. There are no ideal treatments for osteoporosis. But prevention strategies that target the earliest stages of life may be the key to preventing poor quality of life and even death – both potential effects of osteoporosis-related fractures.

Ward, Brock’s 12th Canada Research Chair, will explore this further in a laboratory in the Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex.

As an associate professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Ward will be part of the Department of Physical Education and Kinesiology with a cross-appointment to Community Health Sciences. She is also a member of the Centre for Muscle Metabolism and Biophysics.

Working in a new lab in the Cairns complex is just one of the exciting opportunities at Brock, Ward said.

“I have a strong desire to work in and contribute to the community in which I live,” the St. Catharines resident said. “I am excited by the opportunity to bring a leading-edge scientific research program to Brock and within that program, train tomorrow’s leaders in health-related fields.”

Ward’s arrive is outstanding news, said Joanne MacLean, Interim Dean of Applied Health Sciences.

“Dr. Ward brings tremendous expertise and experience to Brock, and her research will have vital societal impact for improving health and well-being,” she said.

Ward’s research shows that enhancing the diet with soy isoflavones, omega-3 fatty acids, or vitamin D could offer long-term favorable benefits to musculoskeletal development using experimental models.

This research is part of an emerging scientific field referred to as nutritional programming. The field involves the addition of food bioactives or nutrients in foods at specific stages of early development to change the structure or function of an organism.

While early diet may set a trajectory for better bone health at adulthood, Ward is careful to note that this is only one part of establishing healthy bones that are less prone to fragility fractures. Lifestyle choices, including diet and lifelong exercise, impact bone health as well.

Ward was a tenured professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine before coming to Brock.

Her research program is funded by Canadian Institutes for Health Research and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and in part by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. It will bring new imaging equipment, funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, to the Cairns complex.

Ward has published numerous articles and book chapters about nutrition and bone health, and chapters on nutrition and women’s health issues, particularly osteoporosis. She has co-edited two books and authored textbook chapters on the topics of micronutrients, herbal preparations and nutritional supplements. She has also received a Future Leader Award from the International Life Sciences Institute.

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