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Outstanding contributions

Canadian Nutrition Society gives top honour to Biochemistry faculty

Research

By Kelly Foss

The Canadian Nutrition Society (CNS) has bestowed its top honour on two Memorial researchers.

“Dr. Brosnan has helped shape the landscape of nutrition research in Canada through more than four decades,” said one award nominator.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Professor emerita Dr. Margaret Brosnan and Dr. Robert Bertolo, Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, are the newest recipients of the CNS-SCN Fellow Distinction Award.

CNS-SCN fellow is a professional designation that recognizes exceptional service to the CNS and the broader nutrition profession, both within Canada and globally. It is given to a member by their peers in recognition for outstanding contributions to nutrition science and/or practice.

In 2010 the Canadian Nutrition Society formed following a merge of the Canadian Society for Nutritional Sciences (CSNS) and the Canadian Society for Clinical Nutrition. The CNS-SCN Fellow Distinction Award was first handed out in 2020 in recognition of the organization’s 10th anniversary. This year, only three were granted nationally.

Dr. Margaret Brosnan

Dr. Brosnan’s involvement with the organizations that evolved into the CNS began in the 1970s, first as a member of the CSNS, as chair of its science policy committee and later as a councillor.

The CSNS was also a member organization of the Canadian Federation of Biological Sciences (CFBS). Dr. Brosnan served on its science policy committee and was vice-chair for the Atlantic region and later CSNS’ elected director of CFBS, vice-president of the board and eventually president. As the first nutrition member to become president, her commitment to nutrition research elevated the profile of both the field and the CSNS.

“Dr. Brosnan has helped shape the landscape of nutrition research in Canada through more than four decades of active involvement,” said Dr. Janet Brunton, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry, in her nomination letter. “Her early work has helped guide the foundation and structure of the professional organization we know today.”

Dr. Brosnan began her academic career with a degree in nutrition, followed by graduate studies in physiology. She came to Memorial for a post-doctoral fellowship in biochemistry, but then worked to develop a dietetics and nutrition program for the university and taught the first courses. Her research focused on various aspects of amino acid metabolism.

“By sitting on grant committees or serving as president for these societies, alongside members from all over the country, they see . . . that they need to pay attention to us.” — Dr. Margaret Brosnan

A dedicated mentor to junior faculty, Dr. Brosnan lent her expertise to assist in grant writing and gave guidance in undergraduate teaching, as well as practical advice on the work-life balance. She also encouraged them to become involved in the society.

“It’s extremely important, particularly for a smaller university like Memorial,” said Dr. Brosnan. “Being way out in the far east made it easy for people in Toronto or Montreal to dismiss us and think that we aren’t doing anything.

“But, by sitting on grant committees or serving as president for these societies, alongside members from all over the country, they see it’s not true and that they need to pay attention to us,” she continued. “The work is time consuming, but it’s very important for the university.”

Dr. Brosnan retired from Memorial in December 2019 after 45 years of service.

“Through all of this, I have had three wonderful children and six grandchildren,” she said. “I have also had a very supportive husband. I could not have done this without them.”

Dr. Robert Bertolo

Dr. Bertolo has a long history of significant contributions to the CNS as committee member, chair of committees, vice-president of research, president and past president, and received the President’s Volunteer Leadership Award in 2017.

Dr. Bertolo has a strong commitment to student training, including helping to establish the CNS Trainee Network.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Prior to that he was an active board member and awards councillor of the CSNS, one of the two founding societies of the CNS.

“It cannot be understated the impact that Dr. Bertolo had on CNS during his tenure in the early days of the society,” said David Ma, a professor at the University of Guelph and former president of the CNS, in his nomination letter. “The critical work of merging the societies was completed, but the next phase of building and growing the strong foundations for a vibrant society that we all currently benefit from is to his credit and leadership.”

As a professor of nutrition and metabolism, Dr. Bertolo held the Canada Research Chair in Human Nutrition for 10 years, the maximum allowed. His current research explores how early nutrition can permanently change metabolism, increasing the risk for disease later in life.

“The nutrition faculty in the biochemistry department before me – Gene Herzberg, Margaret and Sean Brosnan – were always very active in the national societies,” he said. “When I was first hired, they made sure I knew I had to get involved because those were the people who would review your grants and read your papers. They were also your colleagues and who you would get graduate students from. It was good mentoring.”

“I make sure all my students get involved.” — Dr. Robert Bertolo

Dr. Bertolo also has a strong commitment to student training, having supervised more than 100 students in research, serving as deputy head for graduate studies in the Department of Biochemistry and helping establish the CNS Trainee Network, which offers programs and supports to help students in nutrition across Canada develop leadership skills and experience networking opportunities, all planned and implemented by students, for students.

“The students embraced this program and set up their own workshops and webinars,” he said. “Eventually, we gave them a full day at the annual conference to run their own sessions. It became a big go-to event for students in nutrition. They now get to grow up in the field, working together on committees and getting to know other nutrition professors across the country. That’s critical for finding post-docs and getting jobs later on. I make sure all my students get involved.”

Graduate student recognized

One of Dr. Bertolo’s doctoral students, Raniru Randunu, is also receiving two awards from the CNS.

She was one of eight Nutrition Graduate Student and Trainee Award Oral Competition finalists, all of whom received the Christine Gagnon Travel Award for excellence in nutritional sciences research and reporting.

She also received the Mohammed Moghadasian Award given for the highest ranked abstract in the area of the application of nutrition in the treatment and/or prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The CNS awards will be presented at a virtual ceremony on May 7 during the CNS 2021 virtual annual conference.


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