This text was originally published on Current Exchange: a blog by CHSL Meeting & Courses.
Meet Nafisa M. Jadavji of Carleton University (Canada). Nafisa is a postdoctoral fellow in Patrice Smith’s lab and a course instructor in the Department of Neuroscience. She returned to the Banbury Campus to participate in the three-day Workshop on Leadership in Bioscience to help her be “better prepared for [her] near-future role.”
What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research uses a mouse model to assess how nutrition affects neurological function over the lifespan. I am presently concentrating on neurodegeneration associated to stroke and dementia. My own research group will continue to work on this as well as incorporate the impact of maternal nutrition contributions on long-term offspring neurological function.
How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
My scientific training in the field of neuroscience started in 2002. In 2008, during my PhD with Dr. Rima Rozen’s laboratory at McGill University, I began studying – and fell in love with – how nutrition impacts brain function and I have been contributing to the field since.
How did your scientific journey begin?
I really enjoyed my high school science classes. During my 11th grade biology class, I learned about the brain – specifically what the synapse and neuromuscular junction are and their function – and I became fascinated with how the brain works to control our behaviours. This lead me to pursue neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge where, in 2002, I also got involved in basic research and never left.
Was there something about the Workshop on Leadership in Bioscience that drew you to apply?
As a Neuroscientist I think my training as a scientist has been extensive. However, when it comes to learning how to lead a research group and manage people, I know I lack that training. The topics covered during the workshop are very applicable to recruiting, as well as running a successful and productive research group which will be helpful to me when I start my research group .
What is your key takeaway from the workshop?
Being the leader of a laboratory is hard work but the workshop and the tools it gave me have helped me to feel better prepared for my near-future role.
What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the Workshop to your work?
Carl Cohen, the instructor, provided extensive details about interviewing potential candidates (e.g. graduate students or postdocs). He gave us tools to help make the hiring process more consistent for candidates by introducing us to score sheets for each component of the hiring process (e.g. CV, phone interview, reference checks). I will be using these score sheets and guides as I recruit staff and students for my research group.
How many CSHL courses/workshops have you attended?
I also attended the Scientific Writing Retreat in 2016. I enjoyed the two courses I have attended and am open to attending more in the future, as well as sending my students and staff to future CSHL courses.
If someone curious in attending a future iteration of the Workshop on Leadership in Bioscience asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would recommend the workshop to anyone who plans to hire and manage people in a scientific setting. Though highly-motivated graduate students may benefit from this course, I think senior postdocs and people who have recently started their own independent group would gain the most from the course.
What do you like most about your time at CSHL's Banbury Campus?
I am runner and the Banbury Campus is a great place to go on an early morning run. I also enjoyed having meals with the other participants.
Nafisa received financial support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Nafisa, thank you to HHMI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.
Thank you to Nafisa for being this week's featured visitor.
Folic acid is a B-vitamin and is well known for its role during early neurodevelopment. It promotes the closure of the neural tube in utero. The neural tube in the developing embryo is the first step to forming the brain and spinal cord during in utero neurodevelopment. If the neural tube does not close, it leads to neural tube defects (NTDs) in babies, such as spina bifida (Lemire, 1988). Women of child bearing age are recommended to take 0.4 -1 mg of folic acid supplements daily. Additionally, to reduce the number of NTDs mandatory folic acid fortification laws were put into place in 1998 in the US and Canada, as well as other countries. Since 1998, there has been a reduction in the number of NTDs in both Canada and the US (Castillo-Lancellotti et al., 2013).
The brain begins developing a few days after implantation and continues until the individual is in his or her mid-twenties. During neurodevelopment, the short-term impact of folic acid is well known, but the long-term effects are not well defined. This article will describe recent data that shows long term effects of maternal deficiency on offspring memory function. On the other side, maternal over supplementation of folic acid has recently been reported to have negative effects on neurodevelopment. Over supplementation is defined as ingesting over 1 mg of folic acid daily.
Using a mouse model, we investigated the long-term effects of maternal deficiencies of folic acid on offspring memory function. Female mice were put on a diet deficient in folic acid prior to pregnancy (Jadavji et al., 2015). The impact of maternal deficiency on offspring memory function was evaluated. The offspring were ~3 weeks which is equivalent to young adults. Our research findings suggest that offspring from moms with a folic acid deficiency had impaired short-term visual memory. This may be a result of increased cell death and reduced cell proliferation within the hippocampus, a structure in the brain that is involved in memory. Being folic acid deficient is not recommended for women of child bearing age, not only to avoid NTD, but also for neurodevelopment after birth.
Recently, there have been concerns about over supplementation of folic acid in countries like Canada where mandatory folic acid fortification laws are in place and supplement use is high (Patel and Sobczynska-Malefora, 2017). In epidemiological studies, too much folic acid has been associated with increased risk of cancer (Boyles et al., 2016). Interestingly, too much maternal folic acid intake has been associated with autism spectrum disorder (Beard et al., 2011), but the data is not clear as other studies have reported the protective effects (Wang et al., 2017). Furthermore, too much maternal folic acid has been reported to impair other neurodevelopmental aspects of the brain and behavior in offspring (Roth et al., 2011).
We recently published a study (Bahous et al., 2017) investigating whether too much maternal folic acid is associated with changes in the neurodevelopment of offspring. Using a mouse model of maternal over supplementation of folic acid we report that male offspring from mothers that were fed high levels of folic acid had impaired memory and brain development.
The amount of folic acid in the diet of mothers was 20mg/kg to model over supplementation in humans. Mothers were supplemented for 6 weeks prior to pregnancy and throughout lactation. Once we weaned the pups from mothers they were maintained on supplemented diet until we collected experimental data. We assessed short-term memory of mice using a test called the novel object recognition, animals from mothers with too much folic acid did not remember seeing a familiar object as well as control animals did. Furthermore, they had reduced levels of a neurotransmitter that is important in learning and memory called acetylcholine. The pups from mothers over supplemented folic acid mothers had altered development of the cortex. This means that part of their brain did not follow normal development patterns. Interestingly the offspring from maternally over supplemented folic acid mother showed a similar phenotype to that of mice with a genetic deficiency in folic acid metabolism (Jadavji et al., 2012).
These are some of the first results showing how maternal over supplementation with folic acid may affect early neurodevelopment. More studies are required to further dissect the mechanisms as well as determine if the benefits continue into adulthood. As someone wise once said, everything in moderation.