Richard Mah

Supervisor: Stephane Bourque

Project: Long-term effect of maternal iron-deficiency on offspring kidney structure and function

Degree program:

Medicine & Dentistry-Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine

Lay abstract:

Iron deficiency (ID) is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, affecting about two billion people. Because pregnant women are most at risk (due to demands of the placenta and increased blood volume requirements) ID may threaten early and lifelong health of newborns. Some risks associated with ID in the developing child include anemia, growth restriction and abnormal kidney development, which may, in turn, be associated with increased risk of chronic heart and kidney disease in later life. Unfortunately, iron supplementation during pregnancy is often not effective, and these adverse pregnancy outcomes occur all too often. How ID causes these abnormal growth effects in the developing fetus are largely unknown. Our lab recently found that ID causes higher levels of oxidative stress and affects the ability of the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) to generate energy in some fetal organs (e.g. the kidney) which may alter its development. In the proposed studies, the goal is to study the long-term effects of prenatal ID in adulthood, as our previous experiments have only characterized these effects at birth. Using a model of ID in pregnancy, we will study 6-month old offspring to better understand how this common nutritional deficiency affects the development and function of the kidney. Furthermore, we will assess how the kidney adapts to a common stressor, a high salt diet. The overall goal is to translate our findings and develop new therapeutic strategies to prevent the developmental abnormalities caused by ID in pregnancy.

What motivated you to participate in this research?

I began my research with Stephane Bourque two summers ago as a grade 11 student. I’ve come back every summer since because the lab allowed me to not only develop an appreciation for the work that goes into research, but also the satisfaction that comes along with sharing my research with others. With respect to the science itself, iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies worldwide—even affecting some of my family. It’s motivating to know that our research could benefit the lives of billions of women and children. The experiences of conducting research, collaborating with colleagues, sharing my results at various research days and expanding my knowledge whilst working to address a global health issue has been amazing. Ultimately, this drives my motivation to continue with new and exciting research projects.

What are your career aspirations?

I’ve always been intrigued by practicing medicine as a clinician; however, this research has turned my head towards how fulfilling basic science can be. Although I’ve only just completed my first year of undergraduate studies, I’m passionate about contributing to healthcare and medicine, and I’m now considering a path to be a clinician scientist. By being both a clinician and researcher, I feel that I would be able to optimally coalesce novel research with medical practice. My experience in research has allowed me to appreciate the intricacies and importance of seemingly simple issues such as iron deficiency—a perspective I wish to continue to grow in the realm of medicine. All these aspirations stem from the members of the Bourque lab and thankful is only a fraction of the word that should be used to describe my gratitude to the lab.

How has this studentship helped you toward those aspirations?

This studentship is the foundation for why I’m able to conduct research this summer. I’m grateful to WCHRI for supporting me in multiple aspects, whether it is the opportunity to share my research at Research Day or connect with students and researchers alike. Three years from now, I see myself graduating with an undergraduate degree, and then further continuing in research. It is this studentship which allows me to have a taste of my aspirations, ultimately driving my hunger to succeed and continue to excel in research.