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Dr. Saleem is also a scientist with The Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba (CHRIM) // Garrick Kozier

Researching links between obesity & cancer

'My research program will be instrumental in promoting optimal health & well being of individuals, families, communities, and diverse populations, nationally & globally'

August 15, 2018 — 

The University of Manitoba has a new weapon in the fight against chronic disease.

Meet Dr. Ayesha Saleem. She’s one of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management’s newest academic hires for 2018. And she’s on a mission.

Learn more about her research pursuits—as well as her love of all things Marvel—in the Q&A below.

What’s the focus of your research?

Obesity is a growing problem in Canada, and has reached pandemic proportions. According to the World Health Organization, nearly two billion people worldwide were overweight and/or obese in 2016. Recent epidemiological studies have established a link between obesity and cancer, with obese people being predisposed to cancer, though the underlying mechanisms are unclear. The primary focus of my research program is to decipher the intracellular and extracellular signaling that regulates the interplay between tumor metabolism and host physiology.

More specifically, I’m interested in elucidating the biochemical and physiological changes in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue as a result of crosstalk between host metabolic tissues and tumor itself via extracellular vesicles. My research will be done in the context of chronic diseases (obesity and type 2 diabetes) and modifiable lifestyle interventions such as exercise. The long-term goals of my research program are to understand:

  • the pathophysiology of tumorigenesis on host metabolism
  • therapeutic benefits of exercise in hopes of creating a knowledge base that can turn into mainstream healthcare practice.

My research program will be instrumental in promoting optimal health and well being of individuals, families, communities, and diverse populations, nationally and globally.

I want to know how cancer cells talk to our body’s cells, and vice versa.

How is this communication affected with exercise, and/or during obesity/diabetes?

If we can crack this code, we can then alter it by writing it with a code of our own that is beneficial rather than harmful.

Why did you choose to come to U of M?

Manitoba is a national leader in the promotion of physical activity and healthy living.

For a province that was the first to appoint a Healthy Living Minister, it seems only natural for University of Manitoba to support the pursuit of exercise-related knowledge and research. The Health, Leisure, and Human Performance Research Institute further attests to the faculty- and government-supported physical activity initiatives in play. Plus, I’m surrounded by friendly, generous, helpful and like-minded colleagues – what more can you ask for?

Well, you can ask for research grants and equipment…luckily I have easy access to top-notch, state-of-the-art infrastructure at the various molecular, physiological, biochemical and genomic research core facilities and laboratories, and most importantly, world-class researchers and educators – colleagues and mentors that I intend to fully rely upon as I setup my research program. I’m sure amazing students, fellows, staff, and more importantly the grants will follow.

What do you like most about Winnipeg so far?

How the city actually lives up to its “friendly Manitoba” slogan! Also, the short commute times (compared to what I was used to in Toronto). I’ve only been here about a month and a half so I’m sure this list will grow significantly.

What impact do you want your research to make?

To me, science is magical, and “It doesn’t stop being magic just because you know how it works” -Sir Terry Pratchett.

I want my lab to produce: 1) quality research that contributes to the scientific knowledge about biological systems and how they function in healthy and diseased states, 2) research that improves the health and well being of people, 3) well-trained graduate students, technicians, research associates and postdoctoral fellows that have acquired the technical skills and professional training that will allow them to continue to make a significant contribution to science and society, all the while nurturing their passion for research, keeping that flame intact and untarnished! So, no pressure right?!

What’s your favourite thing to do?

Spend time with my sister. Curl up with a good book. Watch my favourite show. Listen to music. Hang with friends and family. Completely exhaust myself while playing with my three-, two- and one-year old nephews and niece. Crack jokes that I find hilarious (see this entire exchange).

What’s your favourite social media?

It is a tie between Twitter and Instagram, depending on my mood. Generic twitter is great for when you want to spend an hour learning about how the planet is doomed and everything is on fire. Science twitter is perfect for just learning about the newest, coolest inventions. Instagram, for when you want to forget about all the ugly things in the world, and see pretty pictures. 

Shameless self-plug … Twitter @asaleem_ and IG @renillalucifer

What book/show/media are you currently watching or into?

I love reading books in the fantasy genre (contrary to popular opinion, they are not just for kids!). Huge Terry Pratchett fan, so usually try to read (or re-read) any of his books from the Discworld series. However, currently reading grant application tips actually … I think that’s a good thing. For now.

 TV shows – all of the Marvel Netflix shows, Game of Thrones, Supernatural to name a few.



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