Scotia Scholars Spotlight: Erin Noftall

In 2021, Erin Noftall, a student in the Bachelor of Science, Human Kinetics program at St. Francis Xavier University, received a Scotia Scholars Undergraduate Award from Research Nova Scotia. The award allowed her to gain valuable research experience, create connections, and prepare for her future education and career.

Leading up to the summer of 2022, Erin met various times with Dr. Daniel Kane, Associate Professor in Human Kinetics at St.FX. Together, they worked to merge her interest in exercise and health and his work in exercise physiology to come up with a project.

“I was looking to further my own research skills and learn as much as I could, and I definitely think I was able to do that,” says Erin.

The Scotia Scholars Award allowed Erin to focus solely on her research project and work one-on-one with Dr. Kane, which was an incredible learning experience for her.

Their research project explored a metabolic reaction involving lactate, also known as lactic acid, and asked the question, “does lactate oxidation consume heat in mammals?”

The brain must remain in a specific temperature range to function properly. Currently, there is a gap in the information regarding how the brain dissipates heat to cool itself. It is known that during exercise, the brain consumes a significant amount of lactate. The reaction that forms lactate is known to produce heat, but they questioned whether the reverse of this reaction would consume heat.

The intent of the research project was to explore whether this reaction did in fact consume heat. If so, the lactate reaction could be a potential mechanism to cool off the brain during exercise so it can function efficiently.

Previous research did not support the idea that the lactate reaction consumes heat, but Erin and Dr. Kane found that previous studies were missing a cofactor that was required for the reaction to take place. They followed a similar procedure, included the cofactor, and achieved their findings. They found that lactate oxidation consumes heat in mammalian brains.

The Scotia Scholars Award allowed Erin to be a part of this initial finding that could have various positive impacts for health in the future.

“This can be extended to a lot of other health problems, even a potential mechanism that cancer cells may use,” Erin explains. “We know that they have increased metabolism, so this could be a way that they cool off.”

In addition to contributing to this discovery, Erin also improved on and developed new research skills and currently has her first publication under review.

Erin explains that the value of programs such as the Scotia Scholars Award is to allow undergraduate students to get exposure to research and learn if it is a future interest. It can also prepare undergraduate students for research-based master’s and PhD programs.

“Having these programs, and funding students, and giving them the opportunity to get research experience, I think that’s very valuable,” says Erin. “I think that it’s going to inspire another generation of researchers.”

Erin is now completing her final year at St.FX. She hopes to study medicine. The Scotia Scholars Awards helped her discover a passion for research; a passion she wants to further explore in the future.

“Erin is an excellent example of how the award is mutually beneficial to supervisors’ research and to the student,” says Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia.  “We are happy to hear that the opportunity has inspired Erin to continue participating in research toward a healthier Nova Scotia.”

The Scotia Scholars Award provides financial support to research trainees with exceptional potential who are engaged in a health research project at participating Nova Scotia institutions.  This award supports the growth and retention of highly skilled individuals who are advancing and translating knowledge in disease detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, strengthening health care delivery systems, caring for vulnerable populations, and promoting better opportunities for future health and wellbeing.  Funding for this award is provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness. Learn more.