Stephanie Peterson

Stephanie Peterson, Ph.D. student, Immunology

Connects diet with the microbiome

Hometown: Lino Lakes, MN
Faculty mentor/advisor: Dr. Ashutosh Mangalam, Associate Professor of Pathology
What is your degree program and expected graduate date? PhD in Immunology, expected graduation in 2023
Please describe your research: My research broadly focuses on the effect of diet on the gut microbiome, the bacteria that live in your intestines, and how that further influences the immune system. Specifically, my research has looked into the effect of a diet rich in the sugar fructose on the gut microbiome and disease outcomes in multiple sclerosis.
In simple terms, why does this research matter? Research overall, very simply, matters because it’s the way that we learn more about the world around and within us. It’s how we make new discoveries that save lives, teach us that we’re not so different from one another, and connect us to the broader universe. My research matters because it helps us understand how the food we eat, in this case the sugars in it, affects our gut microbiome and how our immune system works. By learning how these things (diet, gut microbiome, and immune system) interact we can start trying to improve disease outcomes by specifically changing parts of our diet, alongside other medical treatments.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? I came to the university to join a graduate research program, so I started doing research within my first week at the university.
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? I started doing research while I was an undergraduate at Minnesota State University, Mankato and that really gave me the jumping off point to go to graduate school. That earlier experience really opened the door for me to come to the University of Iowa. I think being involved in the research community here has given me a lot of opportunities for professional development as well as intellectual and personal connections that will continue helping me into the future.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? I’m still in the middle of my program, so my career goals seem to change by the day, but right now my goal after graduating is to find a post-doctoral position and possibly move from there into the biotechnology research sector.
Does your research have connections to or implications for COVID-19? Please explain.  So far, several studies have found that the gut microbiome of patients changes when they have COVID-19. It has been suggested that these changes might affect how the patient responds to the infection, especially for people who had a poor diet and/or other diet-related underlying conditions (e.g. obesity, metabolic disease, etc.). While our lab doesn’t focus on COVID right now, the research of the Mangalam lab, which has centered on manipulating the gut microbiome to change disease outcomes in multiple sclerosis, could be applied to COVID patients. By manipulating patient’s gut microbiome, we could hopefully help them respond to SARS-CoV-2 infection with less overall inflammation, thus causing less damage to non-infected organs.

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