USRA grants advance undergraduate research at Brock

The ‘bulk and cut’ training approach used by competitive bodybuilders may soon be coming to neighbourhood gyms if Steven Kottaras (BKin ’23) has his way.

Under the direction of Professor of Kinesiology Nota Klentrou, Kottaras is conducting research on the diet and training strategy through an Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) being offered by the federal government’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The program supports more than 3,000 undergraduate students across Canada with grants of $6,000 combined with support from the institution. Brock University has co-funded this award for 28 undergraduate students for the 2023-24 period that began earlier this year.

“The NSERC USRA grant program helps to support up and coming student researchers of the future,” says Associate Vice-President, Research Deborah O’Leary. “Through active mentoring from experienced faculty, students gain a variety of skills and experiences that will help them successfully pursue a career in research.”

Kottaras is in various stages of recruiting and training 15 male participants ages 30 to 45 years to see if his team’s version of ‘bulk and cut’ will deliver similar health benefits.

The strategy involves eating more calories than are burned in order to promotes muscle gain and then consuming fewer calories to lose fat while emphasizing adequate protein intake, all while undergoing a resistance training routine.

Working with a professional trainer, Kottaras is investigating how the combined diet and training regime could be adapted to benefit the general public.

“We expect to see beneficial outcomes with respect to body composition, strength, metabolic and inflammatory markers, as well as body image and other mental health indices,” says Kottaras.

“With this third USRA, Steve completed his Kinesiology degree with three journal publications and is heading to Ireland for his medical degree,” says Klentrou, noting that “strong research skills are critical for the training of a new generation of clinical scientists.”

With his USRA, Mitchell Ianiero (BSc ’23) is in the beginning stages of a 12-week study examining how polyphenols found in rooibos tea may boost bone mineral density and bone structure in post-menopausal women.

Ianiero’s study builds on earlier research by his supervisor, Professor of Kinesiology Wendy Ward, who found that bioactives called flavonoids present in rooibos tea stimulate bone cells to produce more bone mineral.

Flavonoids are a class of polyphenols, compounds found in fruits, vegetables, herbs and other plant foods that can function as antioxidants and reduce inflammation among other health benefits.

Using animal models, Ianiero is developing a method to measure levels of polyphenols and metabolites — small molecules that are the end products of metabolism — in samples to see if rooibos polyphenols can slow the loss of bone mineral and structure, conditions that lead to osteoporosis and fractures in older adults.

“I want to be a physician one day,” says Ianiero, who will be continuing with Ward in a master’s program this fall. “I thought that now would be the right time to get this experience doing really good research that relates to women’s health.”

“Mitchell is going to take these research skills into his master’s and really hit the ground running,” says Ward of the USRA experience. “NSERC’s program furthers those critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are so important not only in research but in life.”

Brock University’s 2023-24 USRA recipients are:

  • Al Jumaily, Aws (Assistant Professor of Computer Science Yifeng Li), “Developing novel multi-objective deep reinforcement learning algorithms for drug design”
  • Alitawi, Rhea (Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences Robert Carlone), “Effect of endocannabinoids on Lymnea development”
  • Aragon, Aliya (Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Valerie Michaelson), “Eliminating implicit bias in health system delivery”
  • Au, Paige Elaine (Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Kiyoko Gotanda), “Behaviour and embryonic implantation in Iberian lynx”
  • Baker, Andrea (Professor of Computer Science Beatrice Ombuki-Berman), “Competitive coevolution in games using Artificial Intelligence”
  • Bedard, Stephanie (Professor of Chemistry Hongbin Yan), “Heat treatment of aptamers”
  • Bellaflor, Sarah (Associate Professor of Health Sciences Rebecca MacPherson), “Examination of sex differences in amyloid precursor protein processing”
  • Boutros, Jean-Luc (Professor of Chemistry Travis Dudding), “Novel catalytic and metal-free “click chemistry” for preparing tetrazoles”
  • Choong, Jonathan (Professor of Chemistry Georgii Nikonov), “Sn(0) and Pb(0) compounds ligated by a diiminocarbene”
  • Conversano, Maria Cristina (Associate Professor of Psychology Caitlin Mahy), “The impacts of reminders on young children’s prospective memory”
  • Denysova, Yelyzaveta (Professor of Computer Science Beatrice Ombuki-Berman), “Automatic construction of complex transportation networks using genetic programing”
  • Duah, Kwasi (Associate Professor of Psychology Caitlin Mahy), “The effect of delay length and pacing on children’s prospective memory”
  • Guleria, Akanksha (Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Shawn Beaudette), “The efficacy of 3D animated video feedback to facilitate changes in motor control”
  • He, Eric (Assistant Professor of Physics Ganesh Ramachandran), “Electronic bands in close packed structures”
  • Ianiero, Mitchell (Professor of Kinesiology Wendy Ward), “Food bioactives and bone metabolism”
  • Kalenga, Chrisnovik (Assistant Professor of Health Sciences Asif Khowaja), “Economic impact of COVID-19 vaccination on Black people in Ontario”
  • Kottaras, Steven (Professor of Kinesiology Nota Klentrou), “Physiological and psychological benefits of a ‘bulk and cut’ strength training program”
  • Marais, Amelie (Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Val Fajardo), “Apelin regulation of GSK3 in mdx mice”
  • Melekh, Evelin (Professor of Health Sciences Newman Sze), “Understanding degenerative protein modifications as molecular mediators of biological aging”
  • Nguyen, Truong Hoang Anh (Professor of Psychology Catherine Mondloch), “The influence of contextual variability on children’s face learning”
  • Nikitin, Sophia (Associate Professor of Kinesiology Michael Holmes), “Robotic assessments of sensorimotor and biochemical control of the hand”
  • Olenic, Kevin (Professor of Computer Science Sheridan Houghten), “Graph evolution tool and analysis”
  • Ratke, Emma (Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Shawn Beaudette), “Objective screening of physical literacy using 2D video”
  • Retta, Abbey (Associate Professor of Health Sciences Rebecca MacPherson), “Characterization of adipose specific glycogen synthase kinase knockout model”
  • Spafford, Julia (Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Stephen Klassen), “Exploring mechanisms governing human asynchronous action potential discharges”
  • Thomas, Hannah (Associate Professor of Psychology Karen Campbell), “The effects of stereotype threat on older adults’ memory performance”
  • Vlahiotis, Kristen Elissa (Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Kiyoko Gotanda), “Assortative mating in three spine stickleback”
  • Wimmer, Justin (Professor of Biological Sciences Gaynor Spencer), “Retinoid modulation of neuronal gap junctions”

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