Deanna is an Associate Professor and Associate Head of Research, Biology, at the University of British Columbia on the Okanagan Campus. She is an experimental scientist who studies how the gut microbiome develops in response to the environmental ques like diet and how this drives immunity. While genetics plays a role in the type of microbes that one harbors, other factors are major predictors of which types of microbes and bacterial metabolites are produced in the mammalian gut. For example, early life is an important time for microbial colonization and has shown maternal dietary patterns alters the breastmilk fungal and bacterial communities which is passed on from mother to offspring. Host behaviors, such as exercise, predict microbiome diversity associated with metabolite production in the human gut; diet, the lived environment as well as food toxins associated with agricultural practices are also important factors that drive the gut microbiome. One focus of Deanna’s research has been how to improve diets for IBD patients and she is currently conducting a clinical trial on the Mediterranean diet pattern in ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease patients. She has also been working on improving the bioavailability of probiotics. She has created patented designer probiotics to treat various inflammatory conditions including inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes. She was the recipient of an NSERC research scholar award, a UBC Killam research award and the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology 2018 Young Investigator Award.
Evidence-based nutrition guidelines are lacking for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) inclusive of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC), however emerging research indicates diet plays a key role in disease etiology. High fat diets are deemed to be a risk factor for IBD, yet fats are essential for normal physiological processes. Diets like the Mediterranean Diet (MD) are considered beneficial, although they are not low in fat. To understand how the MD fat blend (40 percent fat by energy rich in MUFA, includes omega-3 and SFA and low in n-6 PUFA) affects intestinal inflammation, we compared this diet to specific types of fat (corn oil, olive oil and milk fat), using a spontaneous model of colitis (Muc2-/- mice). Muc2-/- mice fed the MD developed less severe clinical and histopathological scores, induced protective immune responses, increased beneficial microbes, and were protected from severe colitis and metabolic co-morbidities. Corn oil and milk fat diets resulted in severe colitis, yet milk fat also induced protective immune and metabolic responses and should be considered an important fat that contributes to the MD beneficial effects. To translate these findings into human recommendations, we carried out a RCT comparing the Mediterranean Diet Pattern and habitual Canadian diets in patients UC. UC patients assigned to the MD diet were able to adhere to the MD with no subsequent increase in symptoms. There was increased butyrate production in the MD, a metabolite known to reduce inflammation. Implementing a MD may be a promising diet therapy to manage IBD.