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Give Young Scientists the Opportunity to Learn

Private donor funding helped enable a young researcher at the NRI to make a discovery that could have profound impact for men that are infertile.

Young scientist Amy Johnson was working as a research technician in the Zeisel Lab when she was admitted into a Ph.D. program at UNC-Chapel Hill. She was concerned how her modest salary would cover tuition costs, living expenses, books and supplies. When the NRI received a timely gift from Balchem Inc., Dr. Steven Zeisel selected Amy to receive the award that covered her tuition and provided living expenses, and allowed her to continue training at the NRI while pursuing her Ph.D.

The Balchem gift was intended to support innovative research by a young scientist. Amy was exploring why the mice used in her study of the nutrient choline and brain development were infertile. Further research revealed that the mice had a genetic defect that resulted in poor-swimming sperm and thus were infertile. An estimated five to 10 percent of men have the same genetic variant. Sperm function improved when the mice received a betaine supplement. Could infertile men also improve with betaine treatment?

Dr. Zeisel said, "While there are lots of possible treatments to explore for women who are infertile, there are few, in any, existing treatment options for men – this could be life changing discovery that is as simple as changing the way you eat.

"With this research, stumbled on by accident and made possible through a gift to the NRI, we have found a possible genetic cause for some incidences of male infertility. Future clinical studies at the NRI will explore whether nutrient supplements can improve sperm function in men with CHDH (choline dehydrogenase gene) variations."

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"The University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute is a leader in the growing field of individualized nutrition, studying what's known as nutrigenomics: the link between genes and diet. The science is a comparatively new one, but the early reports are tantalizing."

- Dr. Mehment Oz. “The Oz Diet.” TIME 12 Sept . 2011: 48-58.