New Investigators United Spotlight: Sonia García Calzón

Hello Sonia. Please tell us a bit about yourself:

I was born in 1986 in Logroño, a small city located in the North of Spain. Maybe you have heard of Logroño; it is famous for lovely Rioja wine. When I was 18 I moved to Pamplona to begin University studies in Pharmacy, Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Navarra. I chose this course of study because I enjoy health promotion and the clinical aspects involving treating patients, but even then I was already becoming interested in research. Therefore, when I got my degrees I decided to do a Masters Degree in Research, Development and Innovation of New Drugs which really awakened my interest in science. Afterwards, I started my PhD studies in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Navarra, where I received my PhD in January 2015. I have been working as a Postdoctoral researcher in the same department and plan to begin a postdoc abroad in the upcoming months.

We would love to learn more about Spain and the area you live in:

-what is it like?

I live in Pamplona, a lovely small city surrounded by mountains, located in Northern Spain along the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago. The city was founded by the Romans and is now a modern city with a high quality of life offering a wide range of activities including walking around century-old walls and cobbled streets; relaxing in parks and terraces; tasting delicious tapas – pinchos as they’re known locally, and visiting historical monuments. Tourists from all over the world come to Pamplona in July to enjoy San Fermin Festival known worldwide for the Bull Run (Running of the Bulls).

How did you come to enter this field?

My master’s project was about childhood obesity. I participated in a lifestyle intervention with obese children and their parents, and there I discovered that we have much work to do in tackling obesity, which affects a large number of people worldwide. I wanted to do my bit in obesity and that is why I undertook PhD studies in this field. My specific research interests are genetics and epigenetics in metabolic diseases, particularly obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Congratulations on winning the 2015 EASO New Investigators Best Thesis prize. Please help us learn more about your thesis and present research interests:

Thank you very much. In my thesis project, I looked into the association between telomere length, which is considered a biomarker for aging, and adiposity traits in different age groups. We found that an intensive weight loss intervention resulted in an increased leukocyte telomere length and also we proposed the assessment of leukocyte telomere length as a potential biomarker for changes in adiposity. Moreover, the results from my thesis clearly show that dietary and genetic factors can modulate telomere shortening associated with ageing.

This work contributes to the field of obesity because it may help to improve personalised dietary recommendations according to genetic background, to impact ageing (as telomere length is considered a biomarker for age), reduce adiposity, and therefore age-related chronic diseases. Telomere attrition could become a possible target in nutritional interventions to prevent the progression of metabolic diseases. Interestingly, telomere length may be a biomarker for metabolic alterations and therefore it should be highlighted the possible role of telomere length in the onset of obesity.

Excellent. What are your future career plans?

I want to continue research; the next step in my career will involve doing a postdoc abroad in epigenetics and metabolic diseases. Last year I did a short-stay at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm in the epigenetics field where I discovered the key role of epigenetics in the pathogenesis of complex diseases such as obesity and diabetes. I am very interested in working in the epigenetics field because it is relatively new and is a revolutionary concept in genetics, and is also essential to understanding regulation of genes and gene-environment interactions. I believe that in the near future, it could present solutions for the prevention and treatment of metabolic diseases, such as obesity.

Fascinating, thank you. Aside from your professional interests, what are your hobbies and interests?

I like doing sports, especially playing tennis or going hiking on a sunny day. I also love reading and travelling – I enjoy discovering and exploring new places and cultures. I am very sociable and enjoy meeting with friends whenever possible to share wonderful times together.