Dr. David W.L. Ma

Professor and University Research Leadership Chair
Phone number: 
519-824-4120, Ext. 52272
ANNU 342
ANNU 376

My interest in the role of nutrition in human health began while working as a summer research student under the mentorship of  Dr. M.T. Clandinin at the University of Alberta. This subsequently led to graduate work in the area of nutrition and cancer. I obtained my PhD in Medical Sciences in 2001 at the University of Alberta conducting research on the anticancer properties of conjugated linoleic acids in breast cancer. I continued to pursue further training examining the linkage between diet and cancer in my postdoctoral research at Texas A&M University in the lab of  Dr.  R.S. Chapkin. I investigated the role of omega-3 fatty acids and folate in the emerging field of membrane rafts. The study of membrane rafts such as caveolae is a new area of membrane biology which has dramatically changed our understanding of the role of lipids in regulating signal transduction pathways. In 2004, I took up a faculty position in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor. Building on my PhD and postdoctoral work, I developed a research program investigating the effects of bioactive fatty acids (conjugated linoleic acids and omega-3 fatty acids) on breast cancer. In 2007, I joined the faculty in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph where I am currently a Professor and University Research Leadership Chair. Research continues to examine the role of bioactive fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) in breast cancer prevention and developing a greater understanding of fatty acids as biomarkers.  I also have had the immense honour of leading the launch and ongoing work of the Guelph Family Health Study (GFHS, www.GuelphFamilyHealthStudy.com). The GFHS is focused on understanding the determinants of health in families with young children and testing interventions to support healthy lifestyle habits with the goal of preventing chlidhood obesity.

BSc - University of Alberta
PhD - University of Alberta
Postdoctoral - University of Alberta
Postdoctoral - Texas A&M University


Omega-3. The focus of my research is to better understand how dietary fats influence health and disease throughout life with an emphasis on the prevention of chronic disease. Currently, a major area of study in my laboratory is the role of omega-3 fatty acids in breast cancer prevention. We have shown that lifelong exposure to omega-3 fatty acids reduces mammary tumour development, which is mediated through changes in mammary gland development. These findings provide evidence that omega-3 fatty acids are important components of the diet and play an important role in disease prevention.

Omega-6, trans, CLA, SAFA & MUFA. I am also interested in the role of other bioactive fatty acids including omega-6 fatty acids, trans, conjugated linoleic acids, saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids in human health. Other areas of research include brain health and Alzheimer's disease, bone development, fatty liver disease and nutrigenomics.

Guelph Family Health Study. In addition, as the Director of the Guelph Family Health Study (www.guelphfamilyhealthstudy.com), I lead a multidisciplinary team investigating determinants of health and interventions for the prevention of childhood obesity 

Service. In addition to my research responsibilities I serve on several committees and former President of the Canadian Nutrition Society.  I have served on CIHR and Cancer Research Society grant review panels, provided consultation for the food/fats & oils industry, and scientific leadership in the development of an unsaturated fat and cholesterol reduction health claim in Canada.

Operating Grants.
My lab is supported through research grants from CIHR (2018-2022), NSERC (2015-2020), SSHRC (2018-2022) and Heart and Stroke (2018-2021) 

Major infrastructure.
1. Fatty acid research. CFI and NSERC supported gas chromatographs equipped with FID detectors for fatty acid analyses. Three instruments are setup for routine fatty acid and cis/trans isomer separation. 

2. Family health research. CFI supported BodPods and accelerometers for measuring body composition and physical activity/sleep.

3. Basic research. NSERC supported flow cytometer with cell sorting capability.

Selected Publications & Research Areas

Guelph Family Health Study - Family and Child Health.  Haines J, et al. Guelph Family Health Study: pilot study of a home-based obesity prevention intervention. Can J Public Health. 2018 Apr 25. 

Fatty acids in humans - Omega-3s, Omega-6's, MUFA, SAFA, trans, & CLA. Abdelmagid SA et al. Comprehensive profiling of plasma fatty acid concentrations in young healthy Canadian adults. PLoS One. 2015 Feb 12;10(2):e0116195.

Omega-3's and Cancer.  Liu J, et al.  Marine fish oil is more potent than plant-based n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the prevention of mammary tumors. J Nutr Biochem. 2017 Dec 27;55:41-52.

Omega-3's and Nutrigenomics. Abdelmagid SA, et al. Ethnicity, sex, FADS genetic variation, and hormonal contraceptive use influence delta-5- and delta-6-desaturase indices and plasma docosahexaenoic acid concentration in young Canadian adults: a cross-sectional study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2015 Apr 21;12:14. 

Omega-3's and NASH. Arendt BM et al. Altered hepatic gene expression in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with lower hepatic n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Hepatology. 2015 May;61(5):1565-78. 

Omega-3's and Brain. Parrot MD et al. Whole-food diet worsened cognitive dysfunction in an Alzheimer's disease mouse model. Neurobiol Aging. 2015 Jan;36(1):90-9. 

Omega-3's and Bone. Lau BY et al. Investigating the role of polyunsaturated Fatty acids in bone development using animal models. Molecules. 2013 Nov 15;18(11):14203-27.


2019 Publications

Associations Between Family Meal Context  and Diet Quality Among Preschool-aged Children in the Guelph Family Health Study. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research. 2019 (in press)

Krystia O, Ambrose T, Darlington G, Ma DWL, Buchholz AC, Haines J; Guelph Family Health Study. A randomized home-based childhood obesity prevention pilot intervention has favourable effects on parental body composition: preliminary evidence from the Guelph Family Health Study. BMC Obes. 2019 Mar 4;6:10. doi: 10.1186/s40608-019-0231-y. eCollection 2019. PMID: 30873285. 

Jeremy Bauman-Fortin, Ma DWL, David Mutch, Salma Abdelmagid, Alaa Badawi, Ahmed El-Sohemy, Bénédicte Fontaine-Bisson. The association between plasma omega-6/omega-3 ratio and anthropometric traits differs by racial/ethnic groups and NFKB1 genotypes in healthy young adults. J. Pers. Med. 2019, 9, 13; doi:10.3390/jpm9010013. 

Chamoun E, Liu AAS, Duizer LM, Darlington G, Duncan AM, Haines J, Ma DWL. Taste sensitivity and taste preference measures are correlated in healthy young adults. Chem Senses. 2019 Jan 29;44(2):129-134. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjy082. PMID: 30590512.

Sarr O, Payne GW, Hucik B, Abdelmagid S, Nakamura MT, Ma DWL, Mutch DM. Dietary EPA and DHA prevent changes in white adipose tissue omega-3 PUFA and oxylipin content associated with a Fads2 deficiency. J Nutr Biochem. 2019 Jan;63:140-149. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2018.09.017. Epub 2018 Sep 26. PMID: 30368227. 

2018 Publications

Arendt BM, Teterina A, Pettinelli P, Comelli EM, Ma DWL, Fung SK, McGilvray ID, Fischer SE, Allard JP. Cancer-related gene expression is associated with disease severity and modifiable lifestyle factors in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Nutrition. 2018 Dec 13;62:100-107. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2018.12.001. PMID: 30870804.

Tang L, Darlington G, Ma DWL, Haines J; Guelph Family Health Study. Mothers' and fathers' media parenting practices associated with young children's screen-time: a cross-sectional study. BMC Obes. 2018 Dec 3;5:37. doi: 10.1186/s40608-018-0214-4. eCollection 2018. PMID: 30524742. 

Walton K, Ambrose T, Annis A, Ma DW, Haines J; Guelph Family Health Study Family Advisory Council; on behalf of the Guelph Family Health Study. Putting family into family-based obesity prevention: enhancing participant engagement through a novel integrated knowledge translation strategy. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2018 Nov 8;18(1):126. doi: 10.1186/s12874-018-0588-5. PMID: 30409164. 

Burns JL, Nakamura MT, Ma DWL. Differentiating the biological effects of linoleic acid from arachidonic acid in health and disease. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2018 Aug;135:1-4. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2018.05.004. Review. PMID: 30103919. Invited Review. 

Chamoun E, Carroll NA, Duizer LM, Qi W, Feng Z, Darlington G, Duncan AM, Haines J, Ma DWL; Guelph Family Health Study. The Relationship between Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in Taste Receptor Genes, Taste Function and Dietary Intake in Preschool-Aged Children and Adults in the Guelph Family Health Study. Nutrients. 2018 Jul 29;10(8). pii: E990. doi:0.3390/nu10080990. PMID: 30060620. 

Haines J, Douglas S, Mirotta JA, O'Kane C, Breau R, Walton K, Krystia O, Chamoun E, Annis A, Darlington GA, Buchholz AC, Duncan AM, Vallis LA, Spriet LL, Mutch DM, Brauer P, Allen-Vercoe E, Taveras EM, Ma DWL. Guelph Family Health Study. Guelph Family Health Study: pilot study of a home-based obesity prevention intervention. Can J Public Health. 2018 Apr 25. doi: 10.17269/s41997-018-0072-3. PMID: 29981086. 

Chan P, Suridjan I, Mohammad D, Herrmann N, Mazereeuw G, Hillyer LM, Ma DWL, Oh PI, Lanctôt KL. Novel Phospholipid Signature of Depressive Symptoms in Patients With Coronary Artery Disease. J Am Heart Assoc. 2018 May 5;7(10). pii: e008278. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.117.008278. PMID: 29730646.

Bertolo RF, Hentges E, Makarchuk MJ, Wiggins AKA, Steele H, Levin J, Grantham A, Gramlich L, Ma DWL. Key attributes of global partnerships in food and nutrition to align research agendas and improve public health. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2018 Jul;43(7):755-758. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2017-0715. PMID: 29671333. 

Krystia O, Darlington G, Haines J, Ma DWL, and Buchholz AC. 2018. Parental overweight is associated with less encouragement of child dietary balance and variety and involvement in meal planning and preparation. FACETS 3: 155–163.

Liu J, Abdelmagid SA, Pinelli CJ, Monk JM, Liddle DM, Hillyer LM, Hucik B, Silva A, Subedi S, Wood GA, Robinson LE, Muller WJ, Ma DWL. Marine fish oil is more potent than plant-based n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the prevention of mammary tumors. J Nutr Biochem. J Nutr Biochem. 2018 May;55:41-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2017.12.011.  PMID: 29413488.  

Mirotta JA, Darlington GA, Buchholz AC, Haines J, Ma DWL, Duncan AM; Guelph Family Health Study. Guelph Family Health Study's Home-Based Obesity Prevention Intervention Increases Fibre and Fruit Intake in Preschool-Aged Children. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2018 Jun 1;79(2):86-90. doi: 10.3148/cjdpr-2017-036. PMID: 29388435

Chamoun E, Hutchinson JM, Krystia O, Mirotta JA, Mutch DM, Buchholz AC, Duncan AM, Darlington G, Haines J, Ma DWL; Guelph Family Health Study. Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in Taste Receptor Genes Are Associated with Snacking Patterns of Preschool-Aged Children in the Guelph Family Health Study: A Pilot Study. Nutrients. 2018 Jan 30;10(2). pii: E153. doi: 10.3390/nu10020153. PMID: 29385734. 

Westgarth S, Blois SL, D Wood R, Verbrugghe A, Ma DW. Effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and aspirin, alone and combined, on canine platelet function. J Small Anim Pract. 2018 May;59(5):272-280. doi: 10.1111/jsap.12776. PMID: 29120035 

O'Kane C, Wallace A, Wilson L, Annis A, Ma DWL, Haines J; Guelph Family Health Study. Family-Based Obesity Prevention: Perceptions of Canadian Parents of Preschool-Age Children. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2018 Mar 1;79(1):13-17. doi: 10.3148/cjdpr-2017-027. PMID: 28971685 

Hutchinson JM, Watterworth JC, Haines J, Duncan AM, Mirotta JA, Ma DWL, Buchholz AC; Guelph Family Health Study. Snacking Patterns of Preschool-Aged Children: Opportunity for Improvement. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2018 Mar 1;79(1):2-6. doi: 10.3148/cjdpr-2017-022. PMID: 28799788. 

Chamoun E, Mutch DM, Allen-Vercoe E, Buchholz AC, Duncan AM, Spriet LL, Haines J, Ma DWL; Guelph Family Health Study. A review of the associations between single nucleotide polymorphisms in taste receptors, eating behaviors, and health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2018 Jan 22;58(2):194-207. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2016.1152229. PMID: 27247080. 

University of Guelph-Humber,  Kin*2020 Fundamentals of Nutrition: Pharmacology and Toxicology

University of Guelph-Humber, Kin*4400 Individual study, literature review

University of Guelph, 3rd year individual study and 4th year research projects

Name Role
L. Hillyer Technician
A. Annis Study Coordinator - Guelph Family Health Study
S. Douglas Research Assistant - Guelph Family Health Study
Dr. X. Lin Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. S.Thilakarathna Postdoctoral Fellow
J. Burns PhD Candidate
V. Hruska PhD Student
A. Mahajan PhD Student
C. Lust MSc Candidate
A. Vadaparti MBinf Candidate
J. Lee Summer student
J. Yu Summer student
J. Hogan Summer student
S. Alam Summer student
J. Lecques Summer student



updated May 2019