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Cassie's trip to the American Society for Nutrition Conference

Written by Cassie Slade - Lifestyle Facilitator, Schools.

I travelled from Auckland on a cold winter morning to summer in Canada. Firstly flying to Toronto and then by car in the early hours to my final destination of St Catharine's. St Catharine's is a city about 20 mins from Niagara Falls and is home to Brock University.  My host at Brock, Professor Wendy Ward, is in the Kinesiology Department. She was incredibly welcoming and generous with sharing her time and knowledge. Wendy’s research centres around nutrition and its impact on both bone and oral health, and at present she has a particular focus on the mechanisms by which foods and bioactives in foods modulate bone metabolism. I was shown around her lab and the University. The lab space is large, modern and beautifully set up, enclosed entirely by glass in the middle of the open plan office where the research team have their desks. The University campus itself is housed in a UNESCO biosphere reserve, making for a fabulous setting. I met Wendy’s research team who explained the large study that is underway. The research involves using animal models to look at the bioactives in Rooibos tea and their effects on bone markers. Each of her team described their role in the study, gave me insight into their educational journey and described in detail their research methodology. This provided great learning for me. I also presented my PhD research and sat for a question and answer session about both my research and my experience as a researcher in New Zealand. I talked about some of the major health issues that affect New Zealand, including the large burden of diabetes and explained about the work of Diabetes Foundation Aotearoa and my role within the organisation.

After spending a few days with Wendy and her team, it was time to leave St Catharine's for Boston. Here I attended the American Society for Nutrition’s (ASN) annual flagship scientific meeting. The meeting was large with thousands of delegates and numerous sessions to choose from, starting early in the morning and finishing late at night. It was the first in person meeting since COVID and there was a wonderful atmosphere of being united as a nutrition community to engage and share. I presented two posters on my green lipped mussel PhD research, both posters were well received and had good interest. Many people were asking me about green lipped mussels, as being a New Zealand species, they had not come across them before. I had lovely feedback and lots of remarks about people wanting to tell family and friends about my results and the potential of green lipped mussels to help with osteoarthritis. One of my posters was shortlisted as a finalist for the ASN Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Science Poster Competition. This required me to attend a judging session, where I was again questioned about my research. This was a great experience as the judges were from a myriad of different nutrition backgrounds and it was interesting to hear their different perspectives and questions on my research. There were a few who were also interested in how I saw my career progressing and I was able to talk about my new role at Diabetes Foundation Aotearoa and the importance of nutrition education. I didn’t win the competition but I did get to attend a special session where I received a certificate as a chosen finalist. On the last day I gave an oral presentation on my work, this went really well and I had a number of people come up to me afterwards asking more about the research and about possibilities to connect and collaborate. At the conference as a whole I attended many sessions including talks on food insecurity, animal protein, plant-based diets, nutrients and inflammation, nutrition and ageing, energy intake … there are just too many to name. My brain was overflowing with information by the end! I thoroughly enjoyed my time at both the conference and at Brock and found the whole experience incredibly enriching and inspiring.