June 8, 2023

Master’s student earns prestigious scholarship

Jessica Wager looks to understand the regulation of fat tissue expansion and fat cell formation
Jessica Wager earned an NSERC graduate scholarship
Dawn Smith/Libin Cardiovascular Institute

Fat, or adipose, tissue is an organ with the unique job of storing energy as fat. The storage of fat in the adipose tissue is key to preventing its accumulation in other organs like the heart, muscle and liver. Dysfunction of the adipose tissue and consequent spillover of fat into other organs is a key trigger for the onset of obesity-associated diabetes and heart disease.

While researchers understand the importance of adipose tissue in maintaining metabolic health, our understanding of precisely how the adipose tissue responds to its environment to adapt to metabolic conditions is poorly understood. In particular, the process by which new adipose cells are generated isn’t understood well.

Master’s student Jessica Wager is looking to solve that puzzle.

“My research project is looking at how this process is triggered in healthy individuals,” says Wager. “It’s important because if we want to understand obesity and its impact on other parts of the body, we have to understand how this process occurs.”

Wager has recently been awarded a prestigious NSERC scholarship, given to “high achieving students” to support her work.

She is grateful for the scholarship.

“I am very excited, and a bit surprised because it’s a competitive scholarship, and I am still in the first year of my program,” says Wager. “I want to thank my supervisor, Dr. Jennifer Thompson, PhD, for all of her help and for the opportunity to work in her lab.”

Wager began her academic career at the University of Calgary, receiving her undergraduate degree in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program. A summer studentship in Thompson’s lab, followed by an honours thesis during the final year of her undergraduate degree, triggered Wager’s passion for basic science research.

The studentship helped set her up for success in her master’s program. Wager has already co-authored publications in peer-reviewed journals, and she is well on her way to success in basic science research, something Wager dreams of pursuing as a career.

“I like the ability to be curious, to investigate and to add to the scientific knowledge,” she says. “My dream is to run my own lab one day as an academic researcher.”

Thompson says Wager is well deserving of the NSERC scholarship.

“I am very excited for Jessica,” says Thompson. “She is a highly engaged student with lots of potential. She is using innovative techniques to fill a gap in knowledge.”

Image of a 3D spheroid that was generated by stem cells isolated from fat tissue and stimulated to differentiate into fat cells.

Image of a 3D spheroid that was generated by stem cells isolated from fat tissue and stimulated to differentiate into fat cells.

Photo Supplied by Jessica Wager