Brittany Lynn Moyce: From Farm to Pharmacology

Brittany L. Moyce is a third year PhD student in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of Manitoba. Her thesis is entitled, “Altered Fatty Acid and Mitochondrial Metabolism in the Liver of Pregnant Adiponectin Deficient Mice Contributes To Insulin Resistance and Gestational Diabetes Mellitus.” Her research focuses on the effect of adiponectin, a fat tissue-derived hormone demonstrated to improve insulin sensitivity, on gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Moyce et al. hypothesize that adiponectin deficiency causes fatty liver during pregnancy, which ultimately contributes to the development of GDM.

So far, Moyce has demonstrated that pregnant adiponectin knock-out mice exhibited significantly higher fasting blood glucose regardless of diet in their third trimester and exhibit impaired glucose and insulin tolerance compared to wild-type controls. Pregnant adiponectin knock-out mice develop fatty liver disease, associated with diabetes. In addition, supplementation with adiponectin improved glucose tolerance and prevented fasting hyperglycemia and fatty liver in adiponectin knock-out mice. Moyce has co-authored a number of publications in the field of diabetes, including a research article in the Journal of Physiology in July 2015.

In contrast to her current work, Moyce’s venture into research began when she started her first co-op work term with Syngenta, on a research farm near Portage La Prairie.

GradzetteTell us about your early research.

Brittany L. Moyce: There was a lab where we performed genetic testing to evaluate herbicide resistance genes in samples of wild oats that clients sent to us. I performed the screens using restriction enzyme digestion that identified presence of three main genes that conferred resistance. This was 2011, when the Assiniboine River flooded. The Elm River was set to flood our farm when the dyke was cut so we had to move all of our equipment and chemical to higher ground in the pouring rain.

It was a crazy time but I learned that I’m adaptable and will do what needs to be done! My favorite part of that summer was when we helped out in the field when things in the lab were slow. It was such a cool experience.

GHow did you end up in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics?

BLM: I ended up pursuing graduate studies in pharmacology and therapeutics when I attended a graduate studies fair at the U of M as an undergrad. I had spent 16 months in the co-op microbiology honours program and had the opportunity to sample various avenues of research. I was sure that research was for me, but wasn’t sure what department would be best for me. I wanted the ability to merge my passion for molecular biology and chemistry in a way that also allowed translatable research with a potential for clinical relevance.

Pharmacology seemed to offer all of that, and I jumped at the chance to sign up for a departmental open house. The open house (which is held annually at the beginning of winter term) is a chance for prospective students to tour labs, get information about graduate studies in the department, and meet PIs that are potentially looking for graduate students. I ended up finding my place when I met Dr. Dolinsky and expressed interest in the adiponectin mouse project!

This department, and specifically the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba (CHRIM) where our group is based, offers plenty of opportunity to present research in conferences and competitions, as well as share research between labs and disciplines. Going forward, the ability to work as part of a multidisciplinary team is going to be necessary and I’m grateful to be immersed in a facility like CHRIM, and with our DREAM Diabetes group.

The graduate programs in pharmacology and therapeutics are dynamic and research-oriented, with course options that are adjusted to meet your research and career goals, and plenty of leadership opportunities. I couldn’t be happier with my choice!

GWhy did you choose your specific research?

BLM: When I met Dr. Dolinsky, he was presenting some preliminary data that showed how adiponectin deficiency might have an important role in the development of gestational diabetes. I was fascinated by the research, and I approached him to discuss the possibility of graduate studies in his lab. He hired me on as a summer student to see whether it would be a good fit. I found a great fit in the Dolinsky lab, and caught on pretty quickly, soon taking over maintenance of the adiponectin knockout mouse colony at CHRIM.

I chose this project because it combines so many different techniques and concepts, maximizing the amount of learning and experience I can take away from my graduate studies. Additionally, it’s extremely relevant, since in Manitoba we have some of the highest incidence of type-2 and gestational diabetes in Canada, including some of the youngest patients to be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. The concepts of in utero programming, epigenetics, and the influence of the gestational period on development of disease is a very exciting area of research that is rapidly expanding.

I’m really thrilled to have the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of this sort of research as it emerges as a field. Additionally, the chance to learn a variety of in vivo techniques with animal models is invaluable experience, and I really am learning from the best!

Worldwide rates of obesity and diabetes are on the rise, and within the DREAM Diabetes cohort I’ve had the chance to hear from individuals and patient advisory groups whose lives are impacted directly by our research. It feels amazing to be even a small part of the emerging face of research in Canada, and to attempt to address from “ground zero” one of the largest health concerns affecting pregnant women and their children in Canada and worldwide.

GHow does pharmacology play a role in your life outside of the lab?

BLM: For myself specifically, pharmacology has a pretty prominent role in my life. As an individual with chronic health issues that can be debilitating, the existence and development of relevant pharmaceuticals has had a direct and positive impact on my life. There have been days where I have wanted to write a thank-you letter to whomever developed the drugs that improve my quality of life and allow me to be active, productive and comfortable on a daily basis.

Even before entering pharmacology as a field of study, I’ve always made a point to be on top of my health, and part of that is making sure to understand how my medications work and interact, which becomes more important with a more complicated drug regime. With the understanding of drug development and clinical trials that I’ve gained from coursework in this department, I’ve been able to stay abreast of research that’s relevant to me personally – this has allowed me to work in tandem with my health care professionals.

When a new drug came to the Canadian market a couple of years ago, I read the accompanying publications and brought them to my physician, who had never heard of the drug. We decided to try it and it has changed my life. The drug industry gets a bad reputation, but I have a much better understanding of the whole exhaustive process that is involved in getting a drug to market, and I hope to one day be a part of that research and development process.

Outstanding achievements in the field of pharmacology

Moyce continues to conduct her research under the supervision of Dr. Vernon Dolinksy at the Bannatyne campus. Her success as a graduate student is exhibited by the multitude of awards she has won over the course of her graduate education, including the Research Manitoba Graduate Studentships for her MSc studies (2015) and her PhD studies (2016), the Peter Dressel Award at the Canadian Society of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (CSPT) annual meeting in Winnipeg (2014), and first place in Trainee Oral Presentations at the 2015 DREAM Diabetes Symposium (2015), among plenty of others. We look forward to seeing where her research will take her next!

This article was originally published in the Gradzette.