Dr. Jennifer Bruin, a Gravenhurst native, was recently honoured for her research in the use of stem cells to treat patients with Type 1 diabetes. Bruin says her love of science began right here in Gravenhurst under the tutelage of her father Tom, a former Gravenhurst High School teacher. (submitted photo)
A researcher recently honoured for discovering a possible cure for Type 1 diabetes cites Gravenhurst as the place where her love of science first blossomed.
Dr. Jennifer Bruin, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia’s department of cellular and physiological sciences, was one of only two recipients of the
L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Research Excellence Fellowship. Her research involves the use of stem cells to stimulate insulin production in patients, potentially reducing the reliance of Type 1 diabetes patients on insulin injections.
Bruin says her father Tom, a now retired science teacher who taught her at Gravenhurst High School, was a major influence on her future career choice.
“He encouraged my interest in science all the time throughout, even before high school when he was my teacher,” she said. “He definitely got me excited about science.”
Interestingly, Bruin’s foray into diabetes research came about as an unexpected byproduct of her initial studies on the effects of nicotine exposure during pregnancy.
“It didn’t start out as a diabetes project at all,” she said. “But what we found was the offspring of rodents that were exposed to nicotine during pregnancy developed diabetes later in life. I kind of accidentally ended up doing diabetes research for my PhD and I really enjoyed that type of research, and decided to stay with diabetes work.”
The findings of her research, published in an August thesis, show that Type 1 diabetes in mice can be reversed by using stem cells. Currently, Bruin is working to understand more about how that process works, and is figuring out how her findings can be eventually translated into treatment for people.
Though she doesn’t yet know when that treatment will be available for humans, Bruin is hopeful that it will one day take a big bite out of the disease.
“I think it could be a cure, because if the cells stopped working you could replenish those cells with a new batch of cells,” she said. “It could be very effective in that group of patients, but we don’t know yet about whether or not it would be effective in Type 2 diabetes.”
The fellowship Bruin received includes a $20,000 prize, and is a part of the Women in Science program, which recognizes important contributions by women in scientific fields. The honour is open to female postdoctoral researchers in a variety of life science fields, including biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, agriculture, pharmacy, physiology and medicine.