Jia Li

Supervisor: Stephane Bourque

Project: The role of maternal iron deficiency in cardiac development


Calgary, AB

Degree program:

Bachelor of Science with Honors in Pharmacology

How has your studentship helped you towards your career aspirations?

I have gained invaluable research experience through learning various lab techniques as well as time management and problem-solving skills, all of which will prepare me for both my master's degree in pharmacology and my 400-level research courses in the future.

What has WCHRI's support through the Foundations for your studentship meant to you?

WCHRI's support, through funding provided by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women's Health Foundation, meant that I could focus on my summer studentship full-time without needing a part-time job to support myself, giving me more time to gain experience and develop my lab skills. It also means that WCHRI sees merit in my research project and my potential to grow as a summer student.

Lay abstract:

Studies on the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) have demonstrated that perinatal stressors can alter developmental trajectories and increase susceptibility to chronic disease in later life. Iron deficiency (ID) is one such stressors for which pregnant women are at high risk, with 23% of women in Canada developing anemia during pregnancy. We have shown that prenatal ID causes sex and organ-specific complications in the fetus, which include reduced oxygen delivery, mitochondrial dysfunction, and increased production of reactive oxygen species (molecules which damages cell components). The developing heart requires large amounts of energy for growth and function, and therefore may be particularly vulnerable to reduced oxygen delivery and mitochondrial dysfunction caused by ID during development. Our objective is to study how the heart grows in the wake of ID during development, and whether any changes in function persist in newborns. To complete this work, we will use a well-characterized model of ID in pregnancy, and study various proteins indicative of heart damage and development. The proposed studies will be important in identifying therapeutic targets for new treatments for use in pregnancy that reduce or prevent chronic disease susceptibility due to ID.