News at Medicine - February 2018 - Triple feature

Triple feature
February 9, 2018
A recent masters graduate has found her research at the centre of a prestigious medical journal.

Brittany Gillies had her research published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, but she also scored the cover image and an accompanying editorial.

Ms. Gillies, who is part of Dr. Chris Kovacs’ research team, studies calcium and pregnancy. Specifically, how the mother regains mineral loss after pregnancy. This is her first publication.
In the paper, Gillies and her team discuss how pregnant mothers meet the demand for calcium by increasing intestinal absorption of the mineral. Breastfeeding (lactation) puts an even greater demand on the mother to provide calcium to the infant. To meet this need, the cells within the mother’s bones break down tissue to provide calcium to milk. This results in a loss of bone mass during breastfeeding. After weaning, however, the skeleton regains this lost mineral and becomes as strong, or stronger, than before pregnancy.
“Determining the factors that enable the mother’s skeleton to regain bone mass so efficiently is important because the adult skeleton normally experiences only partial and slow recovery after other causes of bone loss such as osteoporosis or astronauts in space who have only slow and partial recovery after return to earth,” said Ms. Gillies, who was helped by research assistants Beth Kirby and Christine Wells, and other lab mates. 
Ms. Gillies’ project directly investigated the role of calcitriol (the active form of vitamin D) in regulating bone metabolism during reproduction by studying mice that are unable to make calcitriol. Her and her team found that the mice gained bone mass during pregnancy, lost excess bone mass during lactation, yet were still able to recover bone mass and strength after weaning. Overall, this suggests that mechanisms independent of calcitriol regulate intestinal calcium absorption and bone metabolism during pregnancy and post-weaning. During lactation however, calcitriol may protect against loss of bone mass and strength. 
The accompanying editorial was written by two researchers in Belgium. “They summarized our research and emphasized that what drew their attention was how the mother's skeleton adapts to the calcium demands during pregnancy,” said Ms. Gillies. “They also ask several questions towards the end of the editorial, drawing more interest to our area of research.”
“The exposure definitely helps to validate all of the time and effort we put into the work, and emphasizes its importance,” she said. “The increased exposure also brings hope that the factors involved in bone recovery may soon be identified and used to help find better treatment for osteoporosis and other conditions of bone loss.”