NSERC-funded student exploring connection between gut health and bone strength

A substantial scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council will allow Brock PhD student Kirsten Bott to delve deep into the relationship between gut flora and overall musculoskeletal health.

The Applied Health Sciences student will continue her research with the help of a prestigious Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship worth $70,000 over the next two years.

Bott is one of nine Brock graduate students who received scholarships in NSERC’s latest funding round. They, along with 18 faculty researchers at Brock University, received a total of $3.2 million in NSERC funding this year.

“Over the past 20 years, there has been a lot of research done on the trillions of microorganisms living in our guts called microbiota,” says Bott. “We know that they play a large role in our overall health.  Everything from the brain to the cardiovascular system is affected by gut microbiota. I am interested in expanding the research on how gut microbiota specifically affects bone and muscle structure and metabolism.”

It is already known that an unhealthy gut produces higher levels of toxins that cause low-grade inflammation in the body, Bott explains.

“The inflammation has a negative effect on bone and muscle function,” she says. “I am hoping to show that exercise can favourably alter gut microbiota and therefore reduce the low-grade inflammation in the body.”

Wendy Ward, one of Bott’s co-supervisors, emphasizes the importance of Bott’s work.

“Low-grade inflammation is a threat to the musculoskeletal system and can contribute to a weakening of the skeleton, making an individual more prone to fracture. Lifestyle factors including a poor diet and sedentary behaviour may contribute to low-grade inflammation and are also known to impact both gut microbiota and the skeleton,” Ward says. “Kirsten’s research will provide novel insights into these associations and also consider how changes in lifestyle, specifically exercise, can be used as a potential solution to prevent or attenuate the negative impact of inflammation.”

Bott was honoured to receive the prestigious scholarship.

“To have my work recognized at this level is an honour and motivates me to continue my research in this field,” she says.

Bott has been studying at Brock for several years, having completed both her undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University. She credits the amazing researchers at Brock, specifically supervisors Ward and Sandra Peters, for helping her find her passion in research.

“The combination of my supervisors, who have always been very supportive and allowed me to follow my own research interests, and access to equipment has largely contributed to my research success,” she says.

“Kirsten demonstrated an early interest in research when she was an undergraduate in Kinesiology,” says Peters. “I am so pleased to see that her passion and hard work has brought her this great success.”

This year’s Brock NSERC recipients:

NSERC Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship – Master’s

Rachel Clemens, Mathematics and Statistics — “On High Quantile Regression Methods.”

Emily Davis, Psychology — “The neural mechanisms underlying “hyper-binding” associative memories in aging.”

Grant Hayward, Applied Health Sciences — “Investigating the role of estrogen on insulin signalling and amyloid-B production in the brain.”

Michael Tolentino, Biological Sciences — “Retinoic acid signalling and glial cell responses in regenerating axolotl spinal cord.”

NSERC Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship – Doctoral

Nico Bonanno, Chemistry — “Rational Design of Redox-Active Ligands for the Assembly of Novel Paramagnetic Clusters.”

Kirsten Bott, Applied Health Sciences — “Effects of exercise and low-grade inflammation on bone structure and metabolism.”

Christine Kempthorne, Biotechnology — “Biochemical diversity in Vincetoxicum rossicum, a highly invasive plant in Canada.”

Michael Yousef, Applied Health Sciences — “Effects of Rosemary Polyphenolic Components on FceRI Mast-Cell Signalling.”

NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Doctoral

Claire Matthews, Psychology — “Cognitive mechanisms underlying face learning: The role of perceptual experience.”

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