What do a lingonberry, a lab coat and a soccer ball have in common?
The answer is Cara Isaak, a graduate student who has won a prestigious scholarship to help further her research into alleviating certain ailments using Manitoba-grown berries.
As the inaugural scholarship winner, Isaak, 25, has been awarded $18,560 to further her research under the supervision of Dr. Chris Siow at the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine (CCARM) at St. Boniface Hospital Research.
Isaak’s award has been made possible due to a partnership between St. Boniface Hospital Foundation and BMO Financial Group, which has established a $500,000 scholarship fund that supports students employed at the I.H. Asper Clinical Research Institute or the MacLean Building at St. Boniface Hospital Research during their graduate studies.
"I’m basically looking at the health benefits of food in preventative terms, rather than after the fact," said Isaak, who is working towards a PhD in physiology from the University of Manitoba. "I’m researching things that might have specific health benefits to organs like the heart or kidneys."
As part of her research, Isaak, who lives in Charleswood and attended St. John’s-Ravenscourt School, said her lab has been focusing on the health benefits of berries — notably Manitoba-grown lingonberries.
Resembling a cranberry in appearance, the bright red lingonberry — also known as a European cranberry, partridgeberry or foxberry — is the size of a large pea and has a slightly acidic but less bitter taste than a cranberry, according to www.canadiangardening.com.
"We like working with things grown and produced in Canada and we started looking at lingonberries and realized they contain more antioxidants than other berries, such as strawberries or blueberries," Isaak said. "When your body is under stress, in a circumstance such as heart disease or a kidney injury, antioxidants might help your body."
Isaak is enjoying her work and is thankful for the opportunity to explore her research options due to the scholarship.
"I really enjoy working on stuff that I can translate to the general public. My goal is to work in clinical research that’s applicable to human health. The scholarship is awesome and I’m so thankful for it, because now I don’t have to worry about funding, which is a huge relief, and it also gives me more freedom to choose my projects and the opportunity to talk about my studies," she said.
When she’s not hard at work in the lab, Isaak enjoys indulging her passion for soccer. She is currently the coach of the Portage Trail Soccer Club U-18 girls’ premier team that recently represented Manitoba at the club nationals in Newfoundland, and is also the assistant coach of the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s soccer team, which she previously played for.