New professor seeks to connect nutritional strategies with chronic disease prevention
Dylan MacKay joined the Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences as Assistant Professor in Nutrition and Chronic Diseases, with a cross appointment in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Internal Medicine – Section Endocrinology on January 1, 2022. He grew up in Newfoundland, and moved to Manitoba to pursue his PhD and then postdoctoral work in human nutrition. Dylan told us about his research and teaching goals, and how his own journey with diabetes has given him a unique perspective on his work. Ask him about the #hippopottoman.
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland right next to the Atlantic Ocean. I studied nutritional biochemistry in my undergraduate and masters at Memorial University of Newfoundland. I worked on a project that looked at the development of type 2 diabetes using Yucatan miniature pigs. My supervisors for my Masters program were incredible and they inspired me to become a researcher. I moved to Manitoba for my PhD, where my worked focused on a clinical trial looking at how common genetic variations might predict response to plant sterol supplementations. In my postdoctoral work at the University of Manitoba I was involved with numerous clinical trials involving different food products and supplements. Since starting my own research program I have focused on clinical trials related to nutritional interventions and chronic diseases, especially diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
Why did you get into this area of study?
When I was 13 years old I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. This experience strongly reinforced the connection between eating and health for me and that likely set me on track towards my current area of study. I think the dual experience as a chronic disease researcher and someone who lives with a chronic disease provides me with a unique perspective that shapes my study.
What are you seeking to explore with your research?
I am very interested in how our healthcare system can be leveraged and supported to undertake nutrition research. Ultimately any nutritional strategies that could be used to treat or prevent chronic diseases will have to be delivered or supported by the healthcare system to be successful. Therefore developing and testing those nutritional strategies within the healthcare system makes the most sense in terms of research efficiency and likelihood of success. I want to explore what can be done in terms of nutrition research within a learning healthcare system.
What appeals to you about being a teacher?
I am interested in teaching around the intersection of nutrition and health, especially as it relates to chronic diseases like diabetes and chronic kidney disease. I am also very interested in teaching about research methods in nutrition, how to critically evaluate the evidence from those methods, and how that evidence can be used to inform guidelines and policies. I really enjoy interacting with students and being exposed to questions and perspectives they have that I may not have thought about. Teaching is a way to guarantee you will be a life long learner.
Any interesting stories you’d like to share?
I think that my involvement with Twitter (@dylanmackayphd) as a scientist has led to some incredible career opportunities for me. However it is also a huge platform for misinformation and it is a platform that, like society in general, may not be as safe and welcoming for people without my privileges. I believe misinformation is a real public health risk and I think more openness for engagement and transparency by scientists is needed to help reduce this risk. I also went viral on Twitter once for #hippopottoman