BIO434 - Social and Developmental Determinants of Human Health


Dr. Leanne R. De Souza-Kenney




Our senior Biology Students have created the 1st ever Capstone Proposal.

On April 3rd, 2019, an engaging mini symposium was organized by Dr. Leanne R. De Souza-Kenney, where student groups delivered "The Arbor Den Pitch" to peers, faculty and potential collaborators.

Canada's Food Guide, recently updated by Health Canada, was first implemented into the policy planning for nutrition and health in 1942. It was created as a diagnostic tool to educate and promote healthy eating habits among Canadians, including eating in adequate portions from the various food groups to ensuring the recommended intake of micro and macro-nutrients and creating healthy behaviours elicited from eating nutrient rich foods and having a physically active lifestyle. Given the global rise of non-communicable diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the need for metabolic disease behavioural interventions in younger populations is necessary. We use Canada’s Food Guide and relevant peer-reviewed literature to create a healthy living app for students who often eat outside of the home. The app will provide students with a questionnaire about their intended focus (ex. Iron-deficiency, food-sensitivities, and restrictions), along with a daily food log that helps determine nutritional dietary deficits that will help to determine their nutritional needs, which will then be used to create a personalized food and drink plan with GPS food locating options that the students can follow to improve decision-making for their current nutritional needs. The app is expected to create opportunities for access to healthy food options in order to improve overall health, eating habits, and nutritional needs. An optional chat forum and links to location-specific and public health professionals will also be accessible on the app to support the development of informed decision-making. Expected future aspirations for the app include its expansion to other users including the general public.

Faduma Jama, Safiyya Hanslod, Shanece Hall, Rachel Makkappallil, Alexandra Kljuseva



It is well-known that globally, there is an increased prevalence and incidence of obesity and its associated diseases. Studies show that reductions in the rate at which individuals become obese or have associated metabolic diseases, relies on different behavioural interventions. Learning programs on food and nutrition may help address this need. We developed a program to address this issue by focusing on the children and youth populations through instilling healthy eating practices and knowledge at a young age. We are developing a three part project which includes a web-based application for a virtual garden to be used in classrooms, a physical community garden to be implemented in educational institutions that use the virtual garden app, and the participation in associated culinary classes using cultivated crops from the ‘virtual’ or real garden. Our current target population is elementary, middle and high school students within the city of Mississauga, Ontario. The purpose of a community garden is to allow students to gain hands-on experience and to better understand the different components of food and nutrition, vegetation growth, ecological, environmental and biological barriers to farming and food cultivation, as well as cooking seasonally with accessible food options. Evidence from other pilot programs and research studies have shown that students who actively participate in practical applications, have increased usable knowledge, academic performance, vegetable and fruit intake, mental health clarity and overall health. The proposed outcome of this project is to provide students with knowledge translation in a contemporary, technical context, while developing interpersonal skills that will allow them to create personalized and transferable healthy eating habits that they can carry out throughout their life.

Left to Right: Gurleen Kalsi, Franchesqa Fuerte, Nathalie Nastah, Aleesha Singh, Leonardo Adamo


Group 2

We aim to create a mobile application to improve upon current data collection for patientsdiagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD).

The app will be developed for MDD patients receiving specialized treatment at the Toronto Western Hospital (TWH) psychiatry clinic. This clinic specializes in a new form of depression treatment known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).

Currently, before each rTMS treatment, patients rate their mood, anxiety, and suicidality at the clinic through a self-reported questionnaire, which is completed by patients through a paper-pen format. This method of data collection is limited by the quantity of inputs, quality of data (missing fields), the duration of data input, questionnaire design and layout, and language administration (only in English).

The proposed mobile application will address these limitations and introduce new avenues for future research. We will randomly select 128 patients from the TWH clinic, and upon their consent, patients will download the mobile application onto their phone. The app will notify the patient to rate levels of mood, anxiety, and suicidality on a three-point scale, where zero is considered as low levels and three refers to elevated feelings of the aforementioned parameters. Notifications will be received by the patient three times a day (9 am, 3 pm, and 9pm), but patients will be encouraged to submit their responses to the questionnaire more than three times a day.

Since a standard rTMS treatment course lasts on average one month, the study will be conducted for thirty days. The study will assess whether the created mobile application does in fact address and improve upon the limitations of the current single-survey method of healthcare decision-making using the increased quantity and quality of responses.

Below: Kerman Sekhon, Nicole Guimaraes, Kamran Mir-Moghtadadi, Tessa Rankie and Hamnah Majeed. 


3rd group

Forced migration is a stressful and sudden experience that changes nations, individuals and societies across the world. Somali residents are susceptible to forced migration into Canada due to several factors that make Somalia unsafe to inhabit. As such, refugees face social, cultural, economic and psychological challenges that can interfere with successful integrations into their host country. Once situated in Canada, they further deal with a host of issues, including accessing health care services. We propose the implementation of a toolkit designed to assist Somali-Canadian forced migrants in accessing the healthcare system. First, the toolkit is designed through a detailed, peer-review literature search using several databases to find information about health care services and health care providers that focus on culturally competent care with a focus on the contemporary issue of Autism Spectrum Disorders, as Somali-Canadian children are at high risk for this psychological disorder. Next, the efficacy of the toolkit will be assessed by conducting a randomized “waitlist-control” trial. Following the distribution of the toolkit to the targeted groups, a 34-question survey will be administered to users in order to assess the utility of the toolkit. The metrics of the toolkit will include a rating system by users and providers identified in the toolkit to determine access to care. The aim of this toolkit is to act as a model for providing health care resources for ethnic minority groups, new immigrants and refugees to Canada. This toolkit may eventually address social and developmental determinants of health and disease among all ethnic minority groups by identifying and addressing barriers to accessing health care, especially for vulnerable patients with susceptibility to diseases.

Left to right: Olesya Marushka, Ifrah Abdulle, Habon Ali, Amreetha Jayathilake, Dillon Johnson (absent)


group 4

Exposure to non-biodegradable pollutants such as BPA can have many adverse health effects on humans, including diabetes and insulin resistance. However, there is less research on the human health effects of microplastic exposure. Microplastics are a unique contaminant suite that humans are exposed to on a regular basis through inhalation or ingestion exposure pathways. For instance, microplastic exposure can arise from the consumption of seafood, as microplastics bio-accumulate in marine organisms such as fish or bivalves. Research conducted in complementary fields have illustrated the potential for microplastics to impact intestinal permeability and microbiome composition. Additionally, research in type 2diabetes and metabolic diseases have reported a reduced permeability of the intestinal tract. We plan to use a lab-controlled study of mice to study a diabetic-induced control model, and two groups of non-diabetic mice comprised of a control and treatment group. Treatment will be induced in the diabetic group, and all mice will received a microbiome transplant from an individual donor mouse. Mice will be monitored over time after which the experimental group of non-diabetic mice will be fed an environmentally relevant microplastic diet and the control group of non-diabetic mice will receive a normal diet without microplastics. Blood glucose and insulin levels will be measured along with measures of plated gut microbiota bacterial cultures for the all three groups. We hypothesize that the morbidity of diabetes in mice exposed to microplastics is will be higher than in the non-diabetic control and diabetic control mice. We also expect that exposure to microplastics might increase co-morbidities of diabetes in diabetic mice (ex. Obesity) and increased insulin resistance in non-diabetic mice. Future research should examine the effects of microplastic ingestion in diabetic and non-diabetic humans at high-risk of exposure using observational studies. The interactions of microplastic with human gut bacteria should also be examined further, which may be possible via human cell line research.

Left to right: Sasha Jones, Lauren Ead, Rashoun Maynard, Matthew Chan


Rodent model