IN PROFILE: Nica Borradaile

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By Savithri Sastri
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Exploring the roots of obesity
 
Nica Borradaile gets a thrill from discovering something new. It is why the lab is so fascinating to her. 
 
“Almost any question you have about biology can be answered in the lab and that is incredibly exciting,” says Borradaile, a recent addition to the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology. “There is certainly no shortage of questions.”
 
Department of Physiology & Pharmacology assistant professor Nica Borradaile is peeling away the layers on the mystery of obesity through the lens of her microscope.
 
In her lab, Borradaile researches lipid metabolism. Lipids are essential molecules for health, however the accumulation of fat in our cells is an important component of Borradaile’s work. 
“The excess fat can cause the cells to die which impairs the function of organs like the liver, heart and blood vessels,” she says. This research is important because it is linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes, conditions that are reaching epidemic levels in Western nations, says the cell biologist. 
 
As an alumnus of The University of Western Ontario, Borradaile is thrilled to work for the institution that laid the foundation of her knowledge. Now that she is an assistant professor, she can pass along the lessons that made her the scientist she is today. “No scientist is an island,” she says. 
 
She almost couldn’t believe the news when she learned last year she got the job.  “I may have done a slightly embarrassing dance of joy around my living room,” says Borradaile.  She celebrated the news with her husband David Hess, who is also a scientist at Robarts Research Institute.
 
Hess, an assistant professor in Physiology & Pharmacology, met Borradaile when she was in the fourth-year of her undergraduate degree and he was a teaching assistant doing post-doctoral work.
 
The couple got married in 2006 in the city that brought them together. London was their first choice for places to live. It is not an easy feat for two scientists to find jobs in the same institution because of their specialized areas of research. 
 
“Nica getting her own lab here is a big sigh of relief,” says Hess. It meant the pair could put down some roots. “We bought a house once she was offered the job.” 
 
“We plan to collaborate in the future,” says Hess. Some of his studies are serving as the basis for research Borradaile hopes to conduct for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. 
 
The lab has been a central place in her life for more than a decade, starting with her undergraduate degree in biology, followed by a master’s in pharmacology and toxicology, and a PhD in biochemistry and two post-doctorates. 
 
She comes by her passion for education quite naturally. Her father is a geology professor at Lakehead University, her sister is a computer and math scientist at Oregon State University and her brother is an economist for the Alberta government. 
 
When Borradaile isn’t in the lab, she likes to run. She has clocked five kilometres in 22 minutes and five seconds, a personal best. “I'd like to try a half-marathon one day, but I definitely need to get back into form first.” 
 
She is also an HGTV junkie. The home and garden channel inspires her to work on her new house. “I love interior decorating,” says Borradaile. “But I’m not sure if I’m any good at it.” 
 
Her office wall is decorated with a framed magazine cover of a cell. 
 
“The picture is a cell that has been exposed to too much lipid. I took the photo with an electron micrograph,” she said. The Journal of Lipid Research featured one of her articles, a huge achievement. For scientists it’s the equivalent of getting the cover of Vogue, says Borradaile.
 
Borradaile looks forward to collaborating with her colleagues and students. “I’m rather shy,” she says. “But I hope they will think I’m friendly, approachable and happy to help.”
 
What are lipids?
Lipids are a broad group of molecules. The group includes fats, waxes and several other groupings, even some vitamins. Lipids provide several functions including energy storage.   
 
Nica Borradaile
  • Nica stems from Domenica which means Sunday in Italian. It is a family name.
  • She was born in England, moved to Canada when she was five, and grew up in Thunder Bay.
  • She and her husband spent three years in St. Louis doing post-doctorates at Washington University, the largest medical school in the U.S.
  • She loves cooking, reading and has taken up knitting.
The writer is a graduate student in the journalism program. 

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