Professor — Status Only

David W.L. Ma

Department of Nutritional Sciences


University of Guelph
Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, Animal Science / Nutrition Building, Room 342, Guelph, Ontario Canada N1G 2W1
Research Interests
bioactive fatty acids, bone development, brain health, breast cancer, childhood obesity, determinants of health, dietary interventions, fatty liver disease, nutrigenomics
Appointment Status
Not accepting new students


  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, Nutrition and Cancer, Texas A&M University (2002-2004)
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, Nutrition and Metabolism, University of Alberta & MTI Meta Tech Inc. (2001-2002)
  • PhD, Medical Sciences - Medicine, University of Alberta (2001)
  • BSc (Honours), Biochemistry, University of Alberta (1996)

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Other Academic Appointments

Professor, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, College of Biological Science, University of Guelph (2017 – present)

Director, Health for Life Initiative and Guelph Family Health Study, University of Guelph (2013 – present)

Adjunct Faculty, Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, University of Guelph (2017 – present)

At a Glance

  • Dr. Ma’s research spans both basic experimental and human research focused on the role of fats in health. Specifically, his experimental research has primarily focused on understanding the role of omega-3 fatty acids found in plants and marine oils in breast cancer. Human studies have focused on understanding early life determinants of health and how dietary fat intake is associated with specific biomarkers of chronic disease.
  • Dr. Ma is Director of the Guelph Family Health Study, one of the largest active family cohorts in Canada, which investigates determinants of health and interventions for the prevention of childhood obesity.

About Dr. David Ma

Dr. David Ma is a Professor in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph and Director of the Guelph Family Health Study. He obtained his PhD in Medical Sciences in 2001 at the University of Alberta conducting research on the anticancer properties of conjugated linoleic acids in breast cancer. Dr. Ma continued to pursue further training examining the linkage between diet and cancer in his postdoctoral research at Texas A&M University. He 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, Dr. Ma took up a faculty position in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor. Building on his PhD and postdoctoral work, Dr. Ma developed a research program investigating the effects of bioactive fatty acids (conjugated linoleic acids and omega-3 fatty acids) on breast cancer. In 2007, he joined the faculty in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph where he is currently a Professor. Dr. Ma’s 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. He also founded and leads the Guelph Family Health Study (GFHS). 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 childhood obesity. Dr. Ma’s expertise has been sought in the development of a Health Canada disease-reduction health claim for unsaturated fat, reviewer for national and international funding agencies, provided consultation to the food industry on dietary fats, and past member of industry advisory boards. In a professional capacity, he have served on the Board and executive roles including, President of the Canadian Nutrition Society for over a decade.

Research Synopsis

The focus of Dr. Ma’s 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 his laboratory is the role of omega-3 fatty acids in breast cancer prevention. Dr. Ma’s team has 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.

Dr. Ma is 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. In addition, as the Director of the Guelph Family Health Study, Dr. Ma leads a multidisciplinary team investigating determinants of health and interventions for the prevention of childhood obesity 

Recent Awards and Distinctions (Selected)

Fellow, Canadian Nutrition Society (2022)

Research Leadership Chair, University of Guelph (2017-2019)

National and International Committee Memberships (Current)

Mentor-Mentee Network, Canadian Nutrition Society (2019 – present)

Board Member, International Society for Omega-3 Reseach (2017 – present)

Advisory Council Member, Canadian Nutrition Society (2011 – present)

Recent Publications

  1. Martin JLA, Cartwright NM, Hutchinson AL, Robinson LE, Ma DWL, Monk JM. Differential Effects of Short-Chain Fatty Acids on L6 Myotube Inflammatory Mediator Production in Response to Lipopolysaccharide- or Palmitic Acid-Stimulation. Nutrients. 2022 Jul 9;14(14):2826. doi: 10.3390/nu14142826. PMID: 35889783; PMCID: PMC9320465.
  2. Burns JL, Mirotta JA, Duncan AM, Darlington G, Haines J, Shivappa N, Hebert JR, Ma DWL. Intakes of PUFA are Low in Preschool-aged Children in the Guelph Family Health Study Pilot Cohort. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2022 Jun 1. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2021-0618. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35649282.
  3. Mahajan A, Haines J, Carriero A, Hogan JL, Yu J, Buchholz AC, Duncan AM, Darlington G, Ma DWL, On Behalf Of The Guelph Family Health Study. Non-Nutritive Sweetener Intake Is Low in Preschool-Aged Children in the Guelph Family Health Pilot Study. Nutrients. 2022 May 17;14(10):2091. doi: 10.3390/nu14102091. PMID: 35631232; PMCID: PMC9145788.
  4. Sheremeta J MSc, Ma DWL PhD, Haines J PhD, RD, Duncan AM PhD, RD, Darlington G PhD, Newton G PhD, DC, Buchholz AC PhD, RD; Guelph Family Health Study. Cheese Intake is Inversely Associated with LDL Cholesterol in Young Children. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2022 May 3:1-4. doi: 10.3148/cjdpr-2022-012. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35503897.
  5. LeMoire A, Abdelmagid S, Ma DWL, El-Sohemy A, Mutch DM. Δ5 and Δ6 desaturase indices are not associated with zinc intake as determined by dietary assessment or modified by a zinc-FADS1 rs174547 SNP interaction in young Canadian adults. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2022 May;180:102439. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2022.102439. Epub 2022 Apr 21. PMID: 35500529.
  6. Lust CAC, Lin X, Rock EM, Limebeer CL, Parker LA, Ma DWL. Short communication: Tissue distribution of major cannabinoids following intraperitoneal injection in male rats. PLoS One. 2022 Jan 19;17(1):e0262633. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0262633. PMID: 35045097; PMCID: PMC8769355.
  7. Lecques JD, Kerr BJK, Hillyer LM, Kang JX, Robinson LE, Ma DWL. N-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Ameliorate Neurobehavioral Outcomes Post-Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in the Fat-1 Mouse Model. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 15;13(11):4092. doi: 10.3390/nu13114092. PMID: 34836347; PMCID: PMC8620437.
  8. Armstrong A, Anzalone AJ, Pethick W, Murray H, Dahlquist DT, Askow AT, Heileson JL, Hillyer LM, Ma DWL, Oliver JM. An Evaluation of Omega-3 Status and Intake in Canadian Elite Rugby 7s Players. Nutrients. 2021 Oct 25;13(11):3777. doi: 10.3390/nu13113777. PMID: 34836033; PMCID: PMC8620970.
  9. Heileson JL, Anzalone AJ, Carbuhn AF, Askow AT, Stone JD, Turner SM, Hillyer LM, Ma DWL, Luedke JA, Jagim AR, Oliver JM. The effect of omega-3 fatty acids on a biomarker of head trauma in NCAA football athletes: a multi-site, non-randomized study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Sep 27;18(1):65. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00461-1. PMID: 34579748; PMCID: PMC8477477.
  10. Mahajan A, Yu J, Hogan JL, Jewell K, Carriero A, Annis A, Sadowski A, Darlington G, Buchholz AC, Duncan AM, Haines J, Ma DWL; Guelph Family Health Study. Dietary sugar intake among preschool-aged children: a cross-sectional study. CMAJ Open. 2021 Sep 14;9(3):E855-E863. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20200178. PMID: 34521651; PMCID: PMC8445636.

In the News

New cookbook by Guelph Family Health Study offers families plant-based protein recipes. Guelph Today. December 8, 2021.

Most preschoolers eat too much sugar, new Guelph study shows. CBC News (Kitchener-Waterloo). September 28, 2021.

Canadian preschoolers sugar intake a ‘substantial’ problem: U of G research. Guelph Today. September 22, 2021.

More people turning to comfort food, snacks during pandemic: U of G study. CTV News (Kitchener). February 25, 2021.