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Meet the Recipient of the WTUN BC Scholarship Prize 2024

WTUN Secretariat had the pleasure of speaking with Nadiia Sadova to find out more about her research and what it means to be awarded the WTUN BC Scholarship Prize

Nadiia Sadova, PhD Candidate at University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria

Currently undertaking her doctoral degree in Technical Sciences (Dr. tech.) in Biophysics at WTUN member university, the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria (FHOOE), Nadiia’s academic career began by studying publishing and editing. Motivated by an interest in biology, she returned to higher education at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria to study Food Technology and Nutrition. Nadiia’s current research interests include immunoassays for inflammatory and stress biomarkers and intestinal function and oxidative stress in Drosophila melanogaster (Common fruit fly).

Among this year’s entries, Nadiia’s entry was highly regarded by the assessment panel who agreed that her application and work best demonstrated a commitment to cutting-edge, challenge led research which will have direct benefit to people and society. The panel also noted the accompanying endorsement from an industry expert.

 


Could you tell us a little bit about your academic journey and what led you to your PhD and your current research? 

At school, I loved biology and maths. I was interested in biology and attended extracurricular biology-related clubs and competitions. Over time, I drifted away from science and began studying linguistics and writing, eventually completing a Masters in Publishing and Editing. My childhood interest in biology stayed with me and I hoped to one day study something biology related. When I returned to university studies, I thought strategically about my choices and looked for a biology-related course that would lead to a profitable profession. I chose a degree in Food Technology and Nutrition. The study of molecular biology in this course led me to my current research in intestinal health.  

When I started the course, I never imagined I’d end up in research but as I worked on my bachelor and master theses, established laboratory processes alone, and solved variousuniversity of applied sciences upper austria research questions, I realised I loved it. At the end of my master thesis, I asked my supervisor, Professor Dr Julian Weghuber, if I could continue my research as a PhD student. The programme was competitive, but I was lucky and was accepted as a doctoral student.  

Whilst my previous studies in linguistics and writing don’t seem directly related to my work now, the skills I learned are still valuable. These previous experiences support me in structuring papers, organising my thoughts, and writing for scientific publications. Before my second high education I used to work as an editor and later chief editor of a medical magazine, dealing with natural science topics like nutrition. 

Can you tell us about the technological solutions and developments that you are using in your research?

I work mainly with Drosophila melanogaster, also known as fruit flies, which are those tiny pests that appear in the kitchen when fruits aren’t put away. For scientists, they are a beloved research model organism, especially in genetics. They are easy to cultivate, are relatively low cost, reproduce quickly, and are very flexible to varying conditions. They also have a similar intestinal physiology to humans. Although, their intestines are simpler, they are still an effective comparable model and a good basis for studying the effects of compounds on the intestines. However, a lot of research topics, specifically nutrition and intestinal research, are unable to utilise the Drosophila melanogaster to their full potential because of their relatively small size.

Normally, the investigation of pharmacokinetic characteristics of a chemical such as its absorption rate is carried out through plasma samples. For example, a human consumes half a cup of glucose solution and an hour later a blood sample is taken and assessed to identify how much glucose is absorbed. Comparing a human’s digestive tract with that of a small fly can include obvious challenges. You cannot take a syringe and draw a sample from a fly and, if that were possible, the amount drawn from a fly is so small that you would encounter several analytical issues, such as limit of detection. I work with bio active compounds, something most often derived from plants, which are usually present in such low concentrations in our food that if you decrease it down to the fly scale, it’s almost impossible to trace. My biggest challenge was how to assess this absorption rate and how much of the consumed compounds are taken in whilst using this tiny fly as a model organism. 

Nadiia at work in the laboratory.

To overcome this, I came up with the compound retention methods, abbreviated to CORE. In this method, I used a tracing dye to look at how much of the compound is not absorbed and passes through the digestive tract, rather than how much of it is absorbed. To do this, a precise dose of non-toxic non-absorbable tracing dye is given to the flies, so we can investigate the absorption, distribution, metabolization, and excretion (ADME) parameters of the compounds. Consuming 100 milligrams of something does not mean your body will make use of all 100 milligrams and having an effective and accessible model to evaluate this can enhance the future development of medication and the development of food and food supplements. 

Currently, this research is done in clinical studies with humans or mammal model organisms, most often rats or mice. My method aims to provide a cheaper and quicker model organism. The study using this CORE method has recently been published in a peer-reviewed journal, Biomedicine and Pharmacology [1]. 

Speaking of the other cutting-edge technologies, I used Luminex-based technology to complete mRNA multiplexing for mRNA quantification, which allows scientists to quantify multiple genes in the same sample simultaneously. The standard method for mRNA quantification is using a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) test. This technique can require multiple tests for multiple genes and larger sample sizes. Using Luminex-based technology, I was able to complete mRNA quantification for multiple genes from a single sample. Up to 50 genes can be tested in two days using this process, saving time and resources. To obtain the same results would take me around nine to ten working days through the qPCR method. This technology is relatively new and isn’t widely applied. I hope that soon it will be used more widely, lessening the resources and costs involved in utilising it. Sustainability is hard to achieve in laboratories. Quantifying multiple genes from a single test will save on equipment use and plastic costs, too. 

How did you first hear about the WTUN Brian Cantor Scholarship Prize and what made you apply?

At University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria, we have the Doctoral College Initiative, where all doctoral students can learn subjects like ethics and law, independent of the specialist topic of their PhD. The head of this initiative, Professor Dr Katherine Gundolf contacted me, informing me about the opportunity, and suggested that I apply for the prize. I was also encouraged to apply by senior colleagues. These colleagues had only heard about my work briefly through a few presentations but believed in my research and found it interesting. Their encouragement gave me the confidence to apply and that others might find it interesting too. 

What impact do you think being a recipient of this prize will have for you and your work?

Nadiia completing analytical work in the laboratory.

The experience of my work being seen and evaluated by others is valuable. This prize has given me confidence that the topic I am working on is meaningful, not just for me. Being acknowledged is good for the mental health of PhD students generally, who often welcome a boost of support for their work. I strongly believe that research is a field of work where internationalisation and exchange experiences are of crucial importance. The idea of a university network where people can exchange ideas and work is fantastic, in my opinion. I was participating in a short academic exchange when I heard the news that I had been awarded this prize. 

The main impact of this prize is that it will enable me to visit with other research groups working in my field. The work in the Drosophila melanogaster field is unique and each laboratory does things in their own way as there is no unified standard to guide their handling. Visiting other research groups is valuable, allowing me to learn and gain inspiration from the solutions of others. It also helps to spread this experience, allowing, for example, younger generations of bachelor or master students to work with this model.  

 

What are your hopes for the future of your research and where do you envision your doctoral degree will take you?

The end of 2024 signals the end of the funding period for this project. This project was supported by two Austrian organisations; Josef Ressel Centre for Phytogenic Drug Research and FFoQSI and I have until the end of the year to finalise some of my findings. I hope that the existing project will be prolonged or transformed under a different framework. 

As for the future, I love science and I hope I will continue to work in research. I want to dedicate more time to the research of bioavailability and bioactive compounds to better understand what makes some substances more favourable in our guts than others. Why do we absorb this and not that? Can we make our bodies absorb certain compounds and not just let them pass through?  

We have learned how to extract valuable compounds from nature and to sell them as vitamins and supplements, but in very few cases do we understand how much of it is used by our bodies and how these interact with everything else we consume. For example, some vitamins require the presence of certain fats to be well absorbed. Diets which restrict the consumption of certain food groups could also impact uptake of certain compounds. I hope to get a chance to investigate these details in future research and I think Drosophila melanogaster make great accomplices in this field of work. 

Research into intestinal health and bioavailability of substances conducted by our lab is also related to industry projects. It’s great to see that companies are not just interested in producing supplements, but also in understanding how these supplements work. I think it’s important for applied sciences to work together with industry and enable industry to remain science based. 

What advice would you give to individuals who aspire to undertake a PhD? 

If you want to do it, go for it. Never stop being curious.  


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