How a donor-funded scholarship helped a Land and Food Systems student make a difference

How a donor-funded scholarship helped a Land and Food Systems student make a difference

Jeff Holmes, a fourth-year student in the Food, Nutrition and Health program at UBC, hopes to use his education to help improve the nutritional health of underprivileged populations around the world, with support from the Jacob Biely and Blythe A. Eagles Prize in Nutrition.


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“There’s a real need for research in developing countries, especially around nutrition,” Jeff says. “That’s why I came to UBC in the first place.”

The scholarship has helped Jeff focus on his studies, relieving much of the financial pressure that students face and providing him the space to dig deeper into his chosen field. The prize has also given him a boost in confidence to continue his research.

“It’s encouraging to know there are people out there who appreciate the work that we’re doing here at UBC, and are supporting us with these scholarships,” he says.

Jeff’s focus is international nutrition, exploring iron levels in Cambodian women and, specifically, whether there are competing interactions between iron and zinc. Jeff and his team – led by Dr. Crystal Karakochuk – have been investigating why this group of women have high rates of anemia, despite receiving iron supplements, which had been administered in the Cambodian population to combat this condition.

Through their research, they discovered that the rates of anemia were, in fact, linked to a genetic disorder, rather than iron deficiency. The women receiving the iron supplements had their absorption of zinc impaired, compared to women who had not received any supplements, and the zinc deficiency was acerbating their symptoms.

“It’s fascinating to see how a common practice worldwide has potentially led to deficiencies in other micronutrients that should help these women,” he says.

Jeff was inspired to study international nutrition after a trip to Africa when he was 16. He spent three months working in HIV clinics in various villages and found a devastating lack of information on even the basics of nutrition.

“I came home from my trip and started different initiatives to help developing nations,” Jeff says, “but ultimately, I couldn’t do as much as I could with an education.”
He decided to enroll at UBC, with the goal of contributing to global understanding of international nutrition issues. Once he graduates, he plans to attend medical school and use his skills to help improve the nutritional health of underprivileged populations in both Canada and abroad.

To the UBC donors that made it all possible, he offers a big thank you: “It’s an amazing feeling waking up and being notified that you’re the recipient of a scholarship,” he says. “It puts what I’m doing here at UBC into a bigger perspective – a community perspective.”

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