School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Preserving your health – Meet Mandy Turner

PhD candidate, Department of Biomedical and Molecular Science   

by Phil Gaudreau, April 2020

Amy Cleaver

Every few years, a new additive or food nutrient is highlighted for its adverse health effects–rightly or wrongly–and companies scramble to find something to replace it.

One additive that has been under fire in recent years is salt, which is widely popular for its preserving and flavour-adding qualities. Since salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, food manufacturers have been under pressure to cut sodium from their meals.

A common replacement for sodium is phosphate, and its health effects are being studied by researchers like Mandy Turner (Artsci’16). Turner is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Queen’s Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences. This Vanier Scholar’s research looks at how people with kidney diseases respond to different diets and, so far, the results for phosphate aren’t good.

“Your kidneys are important for making sure the phosphate you drink ends up getting excreted through your urine,” she says. “So, if you consume too much and your kidneys don’t work well, you can’t get rid of it fast enough. It accumulates into blood vessels and turns vascular cells into hard rigid rubes.”

Naturally, a common question Turner receives when discussing her research is whether people should avoid phosphate in foods. She tells them yes, but there’s a catch.

“There are a lot of complications in how we identify phosphate in food as it not required to be measured or identified in the nutritional information on packaging,” she says. “There are also complications for measuring phosphate, so some companies are also misreporting how much phosphate is in food. It is difficult to determine how much people are consuming.”

This type of research project suits Turner perfectly, combining her analytical and objective nature with her desire to help people. She first realized a research career was what she wanted after studying Life Science and Mathematics in her undergraduate degree at Queen’s and got to try a research project in her third year.

She chose Queen’s initially to keep the small town feel while still benefiting from the prestige of a top tier university.

“I’m not a big city person, so Queen’s strikes the perfect balance,” Turner says. “Queen’s is a great university for graduate studies, and in speaking with friends at other institutions I know the staff and faculty here go above and beyond to ensure our success.”

When she’s not busy in the lab, Turner has benefited from opportunities to teach, including a third-year lab course, and she enjoys the local music scene. She’s also preparing for her next step following graduation: a post-doctoral opportunity where she hopes to find a similar tight knit environment in a leading research lab.

To learn more about graduate studies in Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, and other Queen’s graduate degrees, visit the School of Graduate Studies’ website.