Please tell us about yourself

I started at University of Guelph in 1998 where I completed a B.A.Sc. (Honours) in Human Nutrition, with distinction in 2002. While at Guelph, I realized a lot still needed to be done to understand the role of nutrition in the human body. That brought me to McGill University in Montreal, where in 2006, I completed a Ph.D. in Nutritional Science under the supervision of Dr. Peter Jones. There, I also decided to complete my dietetic internship at the McGill University Health Centre so that I could get better clinical insight into my research. After completing my internship in 2007, I decided to pursue my interest in obesity research and expand my training through postdoctoral studies at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Jensen. Throughout my training I received many awards from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Canadian Diabetes Association, and Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. I joined Concordia University in 2011 where I am currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Health, Kinesiology, and Applied Physiology and a Canada Research Chair, Tier II in Clinical Nutrition. I have currently published/submitted 36 manuscripts, many in high-ranking, peer-review journals. I am also a registered dietitian through membership in the College of Dietitians of Ontario.

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Sylvia Santosa’s  research focuses on nutrition, obesity and metabolism. Why are individuals with the same physical characteristics (like height and weight) at different risks for disease? And why do treatments for these people vary? Through her work, Santosa aims to answer questions like these in hopes of making a valuable contribution to the treatment of obesity and its disease risk factors.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

Sylvia Santosa: As a newly minted nutritionist, I wanted to discover the next “super food.” When I went to McGill to do my PhD with a super-food researcher, the main project he had was in the area of obesity. After digging in, I found obesity research to be more interesting, as obesity is a complex disease with many facets.

What made you decide on your specific focus?

SS: My research focuses on why some people with obesity develop diseases and others do not. My research is only done in people we recruit to participate in our studies. Though we gain a lot of information from animal studies, I like that the results we get can be directly applied to us as humans.

As a woman, and as a researcher, who has inspired you the most?

SS: My parents and my mentors. Though my parents always placed an importance on education, I always felt free and supported in choosing my own path. I have been lucky to have amazing mentors who challenge me and stand by me. They help me organize my thoughts and navigate the waters of academia.

How does your work benefit the society?

The goal of my research program is to examine the heterogeneity of obesity, from the cell to the entire body. I am committed to understanding the mechanisms that make people with obesity different from each other. In doing so, my multidisciplinary research program steps out-of-the-box and combines unique techniques in biology, physiology, and nutrition to study the effects of obesity that contribute to weight gain and disease. Ultimately the results from my research will promote the development of better interventions for obesity from disease prevention to management.