News in Research
Internships at Nutrition Research Institute Transform Catawba Students (more)
Less Birth Defects in the World: FASD Prevention and Intervention (more)
Local study seeks to find out if eating blueberries slows memory loss (more)
Doctoral Students in Nutrition needed to join the NRI’s team! (more)
Several faculty members in the Department of Nutrition are looking to accept and mentor new doctoral students next year. This is an exceptional opportunity to work at the cutting edge of science in an amazing new facility.
click here to learn more
Nutrition Research Institute: Helping the world get healthier, one person at the time (more)
Nutrition Research Institute: Helping the world get healthier, one person at the time
The Nutrition Research Institute is located on the
developing North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
Scientific studies under way at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), located on the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, show promise of a healthier future for children and adults based on new knowledge of highly individualized nutrient and metabolism requirements.
At the NRI, researchers are exploring nutritional individuality through nutrigenomics – how nutrition changes the way genes function and how genes change nutrient requirements - and metabolomics – the measurement of thousands of chemicals which make up personal metabolism.
NRI research is fast moving beyond traditional knowledge of nutrition, replacing an outdated one-size-fits-all approach with cutting-edge discoveries of individual differences in DNA and metabolism.
Armed with key information about individualized nutrition, physicians and other health care providers can help patients understand how diet and exercise impact health and diseases such as cancer, obesity and diabetes.
Strengthened associations between individualized nutrition, enhanced health and disease prevention have great potential to improve the lives of people worldwide.
Discoveries in the Zeisel lab
Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the NRI, and his
lab staff are responsible for discovering the importance
of the essential nutrient choline.
According to NRI Director Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., “The Zeisel research group at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute is developing the emerging science of nutrigenomics – the future basis for individualized nutrition. We discovered a new essential nutrient for humans (choline) which is important for liver, muscle and brain function. In addition, this nutrient helps stem cells multiply. The amount of choline you need to eat depends on your genes.”
“Our studies require us to use cutting edge new tools in genetics and metabolism as well as powerful microscopes and special stains that enable us to see inside of cells to discover how they work.”
In mouse studies in the Zeisel lab, research showed that choline - found in in foods like eggs, beef liver, wheat germ, and spinach- plays a critical role in a mother’s diet during pregnancy and is essential for the formation of nerve cells in the developing brain. Adding choline to a mother’s diet causes more new nerve cells to form in the developing retina of her offspring, a contributing factor for eye health.
Researchers also learned that the liver cannot remove fat and send it to the blood when diet is low in choline, perhaps a contributing factor to fatty liver disease. One in five people have fatty livers.
Dr. Zeisel led another research study that determined that a genetic variant called a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the CHDH (choline dedrogenase) gene is related to decreased movement of human sperm. This SNP affects how straight a sperm can swim and how effective it is for fertilization. Five to 10 percent of men have this genetic aberration.
Mice that have a defect in the gene Chdh have poor swimming sperm, but supplementing their diet with the nutrient betaine improves sperm function. Fertility of men with the SNP in CHDH likewise may improve if they receive additional betaine.
“The study is exciting because this is the first time we realized that this nutritional pathway is important for sperm function, and we may have a nutrition-based solution for many men with infertility.”
Research into human metabolism
Karen Corbin, Ph.D., R.D. draws blood from a
person in the Metabolic Chamber.
Located inside the UNC NRI building is the only metabolic chamber (whole room calorimeter) in the Carolinas. The chamber utilizes a designated air-handling system, air locks and measured air exchange to accurately measure (within +/-2 percent) individual energy expenditure over an extended (24-hour) period. NRI researchers are using the chamber to study how genes, nutrients and exercise affect metabolism.
Faculty member Karen Corbin, Ph.D., R.D., partnered with researchers from Appalachian State University to determine whether individuals continue to burn calories after strenuous exercise is stopped. The study included two separate 24-hour visits for 10 men (ages 22-23). They first studied the metabolic rate without vigorous exercise. During the second visit, participants rode a stationary bike under isocaloric conditions inside the metabolic chamber. The study found that 45 minutes of vigorous exercise increased metabolic rate up to 19 hours after the exercise ended. This represents 50 percent more calories burned than during the exercise period alone.
Studies utilizing the metabolic chamber have significant application for weight loss and weight management. Going forward, NRI scientists will focus on human metabolism and how it responds to other factors as well.
Exploring Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Philip May, Ph.D., is defining the spectrum of
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in the U.S.
and around the world.
NRI faculty member Phillip May, Ph.D., is investigating the prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in South Africa with a $5.3 million grant awarded this year by the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
"The highest rates of FASD in the world have been found to occur in the South African towns that we are focusing on,” said Dr. May. “We think we can improve lives dramatically; there are just so many kids to work with there."
An estimated 20 percent of the South African population is affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders that result from mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Children with FASD exhibit symptoms such as poor coordination, speech and language delays, poor memory and hyperactivity.
As part of the study, Dr. May and his team hope to identify effective methods for early intervention in children to minimize their disabilities and to identify alcohol use in the prenatal period. The team will also collect data to determine the effect of prevention techniques and participatory research on risk factors and actual rates of FASD in the study communities.
“Improved understandings about the specific characteristics and patterns of FASD in these South African populations have broad implications for public health in most every human population.”
In a published scholarly paper, Dr. May concluded that cognitive and behavior skills in children with FASD are influenced by their mother’s overall physical health and socioeconomic status, not only by alcohol use. Dr. May’s research showed that proper nutrition, education and stimulation help children with FASD “grow and develop in a behavioral and social sense quite nicely.”
In 2011, Dr. May received an $8.9 million grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to study FASD in the United States. That grant was the largest in the history of the NRI.
NRI scientists further nutrition education worldwide
Martin Kohlmeier, M.D., is the project director of a
comprehensive online nutrition education curriculum
for medical students and practicing physicians.
NRI scientists are filling a significant void in nutrition education for students in medical schools throughout the United States and the world.
Dr. Zeisel and Martin Kohlmeier, M.D., have developed an online curriculum, “Nutrition in Medicine.” This free, interactive course covers topics such as the impact of diet on individual health; cancer nutrition; cardiovascular disease; nutrition for children; nutrition for senior adults; and dietary supplements. Students also learn how nutrition helps prevent disease.
Physicians want and need continuing education about nutrients and their associations with cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. In response, Dr. Zeisel and Dr. Kohlmeier created the online program, “Nutrition Education for Practicing Physicians.”
Dr. Kohlmeier noted: “About 25 percent of all U.S. medical students currently use our programs, and our programs are available through more than 150 universities worldwide.” Link to the curriculum: http://www.nutritioninmedicine.net/
What the future holds
Since its establishment in late 2008, NRI scientists have been awarded more than $26 million in grants and contracts from companies, foundations and the federal government.
At the NRI, this intellectual capital is fueling an economic engine to attract business opportunities and create new jobs for North Carolinians. The NRI is training a skilled biotechnology work force that will be in demand by life sciences and nutrition companies considering relocation to the Piedmont. In 2012, students from 17 universities, colleges and high schools participated in NRI internships. Some of these students now work at the NRI.
The NRI collaborates with other schools on the North Carolina Research Campus including North Carolina State University, Duke University, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro, North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central. Researchers from the NRI have access to a world-class core laboratory at the NCRC.
To actively support the NRI in its mission to develop the field of individualized nutrition and to improve health worldwide, visit http://www.uncnri.org/MakeAGift.asp.
Dr. Martin Kohlmeier honored with Weinsier Award for Excellence (more)
Martin Kohlmeier, M.D. recognized
with award from American Society
for Nutrition for excellence in
Medical Nutrition Education
Kannapolis, North Carolina/University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute –
The University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute (UNC NRI) announces today that faculty member Martin Kohlmeier, M.D., Ph.D., has been selected to receive the 2013 Roland L. Weinsier Award for Excellence in Medical/Dental Nutrition Education from the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).
In making the Weinsier Award announcement, Teresa A. Davis, Ph.D., President, the American Society for Nutrition, and Robert M. Russell, M.D., President, ASN Foundation, noted: “This award is presented in recognition of an outstanding career in medical/dental nutrition education and that includes innovations in medical/dental education.
“Our Society annually grants over $452,068 in scientific awards, student grants, travel awards and honoraria to experts and emerging leaders in nutrition science and practice. Congratulations on joining this group of highly regarded scientists and clinicians!”
Dr. Kohlmeier was recognized for his achievements at the ASN Awards Ceremony during the ASN Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2013. He was presented with an award of $2,500 and an inscribed plaque supported by The Dannon Institute.
Dr. Kohlmeier serves as faculty and primary investigator in the UNC NRI Nutrigenetics Laboratory, focusing on laboratory diagnostics and nutritional genetics. His research explores how to help individuals safely navigate daily food choices and the potential impact of those choices on cancer risk. Dr. Kohlmeier is developing software that uses detailed genetic information to teach consumers about healthy foods.
In addition to his position at the UNC NRI, Dr. Kohlmeier maintains his appointment as research professor with the Department of Nutrition, UNC Schools of Medicine and Public Health.
Scientists at the UNC NRI work in the field of individualized nutrition, studying how people exhibit different metabolisms and nutrient requirements. In the future, discoveries at the NRI will lead to customized diets for optimal wellness and disease reduction. The UNC NRI is located on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
NRI Director recognized for excellence in teaching, research and service (more)
Dr. Steven Zeisel, M.D. Ph.D.,
Director of the UNC Nutrition
The University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute (UNC NRI) announces today that Stephen H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished University Professor in Nutrition and Pediatrics and UNC NRI Director, has been selected as the 2012 recipient of the Bernard G. Greenberg Alumni Endowment Award from the UNC Gillings School of Public Health. The award includes an annual cash prize of $12,000 for three years.
In announcing Dr. Zeisel’s selection as recipient of the prestigious award, Gregory J. Chang, MHA, and chair of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health Alumni Awards Committee, noted: “The award is presented to an outstanding full-time faculty member of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health for excellence in the areas of teaching, research and service.” The major criterion for the award is continuous demonstrated excellence over a number of years in service to the broad public health community.
“The alumni association would like to thank you for outstanding contributions to the field of public health.”
The school’s alumni association established the Greenberg Award in 1986 to honor Bernard Greenberg, founder of the Department of Biostatistics in 1949 and leader for two decades, and Dean of the School of Public Health from 1972-82.
Dr. Zeisel was recognized during the 45th Annual Fred T. Foard J. Memorial Lecture at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education in Chapel Hill.
Scientists at the UNC NRI work in the field of individualized nutrition, studying how people exhibit different metabolisms and nutrient requirements. In the future, discoveries at the NRI will lead to customized diets for optimal wellness and disease reduction. The UNC NRI is located on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
Philip May, PhD awarded $5.3M grant to study Fetal Alcohol Disorders (more)
For Immediate Release – March 22, 2013
UNC Nutrition Research Scientist awarded $5.3M grant to study Fetal Alcohol Disorders
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis has received a $5.3 million grant to study fetal alcohol disorders (FASD) in South Africa. The funds are from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The study will be conducted by Philip May, PhD, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) and Department of Nutrition. Dr. May is widely recognized as a leader in the field of FASD and has conducted extensive research on the epidemiology and risk factors for FASD. A former resident of North Carolina, May holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Catawba College and a Masters from Wake Forest University. He received his Doctorate of Sociology specializing in Demography and Epidemiology from the University of Montana.
Through their research in two South African communities, May and his team will expand the scientific understanding of the characteristics and patterns of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). “The highest rates of FASD in the world have been found to occur in the South African towns that we are focusing on,” says May. “We think we can improve lives dramatically; there are just so many kids to work with there.”
In South Africa, up to 20% of the population is estimated to be affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, a result of drinking during alcohol during pregnancy. Children with FASD suffer from birth defects ranging from learning disabilities to neurological, behavioral, and social deficits. Symptoms often include poor coordination, speech and language delays, hyperactive behavior or poor memory.
As part of the research study, May and his team hope to achieve five primary objectives:
1. Identify effective methods for early intervention in children to minimize their disabilities and identify alcohol use in the prenatal period. The grant will fund two 18-month study trials of educational and nutritional interventions for 144 South African children beginning when they are 24 months old.
2. Compare results from alcohol biomarker (EtG and FAEE) tests and self-reported alcohol use in the prenatal period.
3. Establish and complete a detailed case control study of maternal nutrition (utilizing biomarkers and reported dietary intake) in the prenatal period.
4. Continue to research the developmental trajectory of FASD from birth to 7 years in the above cohort and recruit a new newborn cohort for further longitudinal study of development of children with FASD. Understandings from these younger children will add to data already collected in multiple, other, cross-sectional studies to inform us about FASD from birth to 23 years.
5. Collect data to assess any impact a comprehensive prevention model, particular prevention techniques, and participatory research may have had on risk factors for FASD and actual rates of FASD in the study communities.
May believes that this research will bring new understanding of FASD across the lifespan of a child. “Improved understandings about the specific characteristics and patterns of FASD in these South African populations have broad implications for public health in most every human population.”
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is located on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis. The NRI is dedicated to developing the field of individualized nutrition — understanding variance in people’s DNA, metabolism and nutrient requirements and how this impacts health. Long term, the NRI’s discoveries will lead to individually tailored nutrition recommendations that will allow people to customize their diets in order to maximize wellness and reduce risk of disease.
For more information on the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, or to schedule an interview, contact Beverly Jordan at 704-250-5008 or Beverly_jordan@unc.edu.
NRI study analyzing effects of blueberries on memory featured on News 14 (more)
Dr. Karen Corbin shares her work on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (more)
Dr. Karen Corbin shares her work on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease on News 14. Read the story, log in with your Time Warner account to see the video interview with Dr. Corbin.
UNC Nutrition Research Institute Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant For Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development (more)
Photo Credit: Salisbury Post
Kannapolis, North Carolina / University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute —
The University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute (UNC NRI) announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished University Professor in Nutrition and Pediatrics and UNC NRI Director, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Choline and Optimal Development”.
Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Zeisel’s project is one of over 100 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’re excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea towards global impact.”
To receive funding, Zeisel and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and nutrition. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9, will be accepted through May 15, 2012.
The proposed research on choline and brain development is a collaboration among Zeisel, Carol Cheatham, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in the UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences, and Andrew Prentice, Ph.D., scientific director of the Medical Research Council’s Keneba field station in The Gambia, Africa.
Zeisel is credited with the discovery of choline’s role as an essential nutrient, particularly for fetal and infant development. His research indicates that women need to eat diets adequate in choline, which is found in foods such as eggs, to assure optimal brain development in their infants. In addition, several common genetic misspellings, called SNPs, make some women require especially high amounts of choline in their diets. Dietary choline intake in young women is low in low- and middle-income countries and perhaps increasing maternal intake of choline will enhance brain development, as measured by memory function tests, in children.
The Grand Challenges Explorations grant will enable Zeisel and colleagues to design a diet intervention that can be implemented in The Gambia, where diet intake of choline is less than half the recommended Adequate Intake. First, investigators at the UNC institute will develop methods for testing infant memory that will work when used in the field in Africa. Also, researchers will test solar-powered instruments for studying brainwaves in infants. These methods will be tested in a study of pregnant women and their babies in Kannapolis. At the same time, the team will conduct studies to determine which of the SNPs in genes of choline metabolism are common in The Gambia. The data generated from these studies will enable Zeisel and colleagues to design and implement an intervention that assures adequate intake of choline in a population in The Gambia and assess whether this enhances brain development.
About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 600 people in 45 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.
About the UNC Nutrition Research Institute
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute (UNC NRI), part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is dedicated to developing the field of individualized nutrition — understanding why people have different metabolism and nutrient requirements. Long term, the NRI’s discoveries will lead to individually tailored nutrition recommendations that will allow people to customize their diets in order to maximize wellness and reduce risk of disease. The UNC NRI is located on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
UNC Nutrition Research Institute study identifies gene associated with male infertility (more)
Fifteen of every 100 couples in the world who want to have children find it difficult or impossible to conceive. In about half those couples, the difficulty results from the male partner’s infertility. Now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis, N.C., have found a possible genetic cause for some incidences of male infertility.
A study led by Amy Johnson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate working under the direction of institute director Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., has found that a genetic variant, called a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), is associated with human sperm motility. Between five and ten percent of men are affected by this variant.
The SNP commonly occurs within the gene for human choline dehyrdogenase (CHDH) and can influence the amount of choline required in an individual’s diet. Choline, a nutrient used to form cell membranes, is found in eggs, meats and wheat germ, among other foods.
The findings appeared in the April 27 issue of the journal PLoS One, published by the Public Library of Science (http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0036047). “The study is exciting,” Johnson said, “because we found that sperm from men who have this genetic difference look similar to sperm produced in mouse models that completely lack the choline enzyme.”
In both mice and humans, CHDH variant is associated with changes in sperm cell structural and motility, as well as lower energy levels.
“Often the cause of a man’s infertility is unknown,” Johnson said. “But we now have evidence that the CHDH SNP may play a role in some of these cases. This is encouraging because we know that dietary interventions can improve sperm energy levels and motility in mice.”
Future laboratory studies will explore whether choline nutrient supplements also can improve sperm function in men with CHDH variations.
Nutrition Research Institute contact: Beverly K. Jordan, (704) 250-5008, email@example.com
UNC Nutrition Research Institute Continues Growth with Newly Hired Faculty and Research Staff (more)
For Immediate Release – December 12, 2011
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) in Kannapolis, NC continues to increase its activity and research by hiring several new researchers as faculty and staff. These recent additions are evidence that the NRI is continuing strong growth trends, broadening its scope of research, and underscoring the significance of its studies.
As the latest faculty addition, Fatimah L.C. Jackson, Ph.D., a prominent anthropologist, joined the NRI in September, 2011 as a Visiting Professor from UNC Chapel Hill. At the NRI, Dr. Jackson will continue her work developing a tool for modeling population substructure in disease susceptibility called Ethnogenetic Layering. Using this tool, she hopes to identify more immediate and individual intervention strategies to address health disparities among African Americans.
Over the course of her career, Dr. Jackson has worked extensively among diverse African and African American groups particularly in West (Liberia), Central (Cameroon), North (Egypt and Sudan) and East Africa (Tanzania and Rwanda). According to Dr. Jackson, most researchers have approached the African American community as a monolith, treating a highly diverse population as if it were uniform and then inadvertently selecting a subset to represent all African Americans. In fact, African Americans are derived from diverse areas of West and West Central Africa. Differing proportions of Africans from these regions were transported to the Americans during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This original diversity translates today into an African American population that has different regional genetic ancestries, diverse cultural practices, and sometimes different frequencies of certain health disparities. As enslaved individuals from Africa were transported to the United States, they were settled regionally in ways that created a degree of substructure or stratification within the subsequent African American communities. Jackson’s tool, Ethnogenetic Layering, taps into that historic subdivision to identify local cultural and biological risk factors for contemporary health inequities.
For African Americans, regional origin is significant for generational DNA inheritance, and therefore gene expression, which can manifest as susceptibility to certain diseases. As a prime example, there appears to be a higher susceptibility among eastern and central North Carolina populations to hypertension. By focusing on the salt content of their diet, in combination with the discovery of salt retaining genes in their bodies (which resemble the DNA of people coming from regions of Africa very close to the equator), Dr. Jackson may be able to discover the original genetic and dietary sources of the hypertension, as well as develop sustainable interventions for better health.
In her research, Jackson wants to balance the technical aspects of genetic heritage with the cultural and environmental impacts. “Foods, for instance,” she elaborates, “that are eaten by different segments of African Americans may be metabolized somewhat differently. I will explore how diets and genetic heritage contribute to those differences, some of which are traceable back to regional origin in Africa.” This will provide clues to diseases, receptions of medicine, and novel intervention strategies. Ultimately, these intervention strategies may help mitigate certain health risks including the increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and some types of cancer in particular groups of African Americans.
While conducting research in Africa, Dr. Jackson cofounded the first human DNA bank on the continent in Cameroon. The bank has archived more than 5,000 DNA samples, which will enable her to use advanced technologies in epigenetics, available at the NRI, to explore differences between individuals with known environmental exposures to gene-influencing compounds. “I look forward to partnering with other professionals at the NRI to explore whether certain aspects of biological diversity among African Americans are influenced by their epigenetics,” explains Jackson. “The integration of the latest technology together with the scientists’ expertise presents a comprehensive approach that drew me to the NRI.”
NRI Director, Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D. is pleased to have Dr. Jackson join the NRI team, as he shares, “The studies of health disparities among African Americans directly align to the NRI mission of individualized nutrition. We are thrilled that Dr. Jackson has chosen to conduct her research with our team.”
Fatimah L.C. Jackson is a biological anthropologist who received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Cornell University. She was Professor and Distinguished Scholar Teacher at the University of Maryland at College Park. In July 2009, she became Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served as Director of the Institute of African American Research (IAAR). She has been a Senior Fulbright Scholar and is the recipient of numerous research awards.
The NRI also welcomes additional newly hired Postdoctoral Research Associates and lab staff, including the following:
- Sheau Ching Chai, Ph.D., R.D. – Dr. Chai is a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Registered Dietitian who previously has studied the role of dietary supplements in bone and cardiovascular health. Now with the NRI, she is extending her research to the area of functional foods and neuroscience. She works in the lab of Dr. Carol Cheatham, who specializes in the effects of nutrition on pediatric brain development.
- Jie “Jacky” Zhu, Ph.D. – After earning his Ph.D. from Wuhan University’s College of Medicine in China, Dr. Zhu joined the NRI to study folate metabolism through biochemical, genetic, and epigenetic mechanisms. He will be supporting the NRI Nutrigenetics Laboratory, led by primary investigator, Dr. Martin Kohlmeier, and will focus on leveraging recent genetic technology to translate DNA detail into practical clinical uses.
- Sarah King, Ph.D. – Dr. King earned her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences and Public Health from Harvard University. She is now studying choline metabolism in the lab of NRI Director, Dr. Steven Zeisel. The goal of her current project is to understand how genes involved in choline metabolism and synthesis are regulated during brain development.
- Corinne Zeller-Knuth, Ph.D. – As NRI Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dr. Zeller-Knuth studies the regulation of certain gut peptides and how they affect control of body weight. She works with Dr. Andrew Swick, exploring how the digestive system senses food and impacts appetite and metabolism. Prior to joining the NRI, Corinne studied the effects of stress on RNA decay at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences.
- Fuli “Tracey” He – As a graduate student earning her M.S. in Nutritional Biochemistry from UNC-Chapel Hill, Tracey supports the Niculescu lab at the NRI, focusing on epigenetic influence on brain development, specifically aging of the brain. Her current work involves how blueberry polyphenol diets alter gene methylation and expression.
The UNC NRI is proud to announce these additions, which help provide a positive contribution to the local economy through increased employment. The studies of these new team members enhance not only the research of the NRI scientists, but also the strength and stability of the NRI in our economic community.
Dr. Steven Zeisel, NRI Director, shares, “We welcome the new members of our team, and expect this level of growth to continue. The NRI is happy that we have the ability to be a positive influence in the economic development through our growth. Our increasing employment trend at the NRI is a clear indication of our solid foundation and growing success, and we are proud to be moving forward as an active member in the state and in this community.”
Asian nations turn to UNC Nutrition Research Institute for nutrition expertise (more)
For Immediate Release – November 28, 2011
NRI scientist, Dr. Carol Cheatham, featured in international public education campaign.
Carol Cheatham, Ph.D., developmental cognitive neuroscientist with the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), was recently invited to appear as featured speaker with an international public education campaign. The campaign, sponsored by Abbott Nutrition, makers of Similac infant formula, was designed to establish greater awareness of proper nutrition for pregnant women in Vietnam and Singapore. In her role at the NRI, Cheatham studies the effects of nutrition on memory and attention from prenatal months to preschool years, making her the ideal resource to share the science behind prenatal diet recommendations in this campaign.
Cheatham was warmly received as featured presenter in a lecture tour, which was a primary part of the broader, multi-national education campaign, with the ultimate goal of enhancing infant and child health levels in these countries.
On the tour, Dr. Cheatham addressed health professionals, including OB/GYN Physicians in Singapore and midwives in Vietnam, the primary healthcare support during pregnancy and delivery in that nation. To help cascade the message even further to the public, Dr. Cheatham and the other lecturers spoke directly to the media in Vietnam, encouraging increased communication throughout the nation about nutrition.
The speaker panel featured Dr. Cheatham as the leading science resource, providing the technical research behind the panel’s common message of maternal nutrition. She shared the stage with other prominent health experts, including leaders in medicine and government, who corroborated her emphasis on the importance of a mother’s prenatal nutrition. Other panel speakers included a highly recognized Vietnamese government official, the General Secretary of the National Institute of Nutrition, Dr. Tu Gnu, M.D., Ph.D., and a prominent Vietnamese Director of Ho Chi Minh City Nutrition Center, Dr. Do Thi Ngoc Diep.
In her presentation, “Maternal Nutrition and Cognition of Infants and Toddlers,” Dr. Cheatham spoke about the importance of certain necessary nutrients, the risks of deficiencies, and how to obtain the nutrients through proper diet. Much of this information was new to many in her audience because the importance of women’s nutrition to the development of their children is still new for many people around the world. Through Cheatham’s lecture, the audience learned that during the prenatal months and first two years of life, any nutritional deficiencies will have an enormous effect on the developing brain.
“The women of Vietnam, Singapore, and many other countries need to more fully understand the importance of proper nutrition -- it is critical to their child’s brain development,” states Cheatham. “The education gap on maternal diet presents quite a learning opportunity in these areas, thus the need for this education campaign. With our new information around proper diet, they are learning the foods that provide the essential nutrients. The people of these nations, both professionals and the public, both urban and rural, will benefit greatly from awareness of this issue.”
Dr. Cheatham’s research pivots on her findings that proper nutrition among pregnant mothers is critical to the brain development of the fetus and the subsequent cognitive development of the infant. To explain the applicability of this research to her audience, Cheatham elaborated on the importance of certain nutrients, such as folate, iron, and iodine in a pregnant woman’s diet, and food sources of these nutrients. For example, seaweed and other sea vegetables readily available in Southeast Asia were promoted in order to ensure appropriate levels of iodine intake among these populations, since pregnant women are often counseled to avoid salt, a major source of iodine, as a way to prevent prenatal complications such as high blood pressure. “This recommendation was essential to share because iodine deficiency is still the #1 cause of mental retardation worldwide. By raising awareness about the importance of prenatal nutrition, we can directly and positively impact their national health statistics,” explained Dr. Cheatham.
Cheatham had the added challenge of developing her presentation content with local cultural beliefs and practices in mind. For instance, pregnant women of these areas often do not eat with their baby’s brain development as a consideration. Instead, their pregnancy goal commonly is lighter newborn birth weight, since the mothers typically have relatively petite frames and want to decrease the risk of birthing complications and obstetric issues, especially in the rural areas where healthcare may not be readily accessible. This common practice of limited caloric intake during pregnancy, while an accepted part of their culture, will have a negative impact on fetus brain development. Therefore, one challenge for the education campaign is to encourage proper nutrients through a healthy prenatal diet, while also respecting cultural beliefs and fears around the birthing process.
By hearing Cheatham’s proven research results on brain development and links to diet, her audience of government health officials, clinicians, and the public can make fact-based diet decisions, resulting in enhanced health levels for children of these countries.
Fortunately, Cheatham’s influence will not end with the lecture attendees. As part of this education campaign, Cheatham will participate in upcoming live webinars, making her research findings accessible to people in less urban areas of the country who could not attend the lectures in person. “The research we’re doing is significant on a global scale,” Dr. Cheatham elaborates. “There are still millions of people that could benefit from our research. Communication is key.” Through these live online forums, her message will have extended impact to an even larger scope of audience, helping to educate a broader range of mothers.
Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., and Director of the NRI shares, “This was a valuable opportunity for the NRI to communicate our message, research, and knowledge with a population that is not yet educated in prenatal diet. Dr. Cheatham provided insight and influence to those who desperately need it. And through her partnership with the Asian governments and health professionals, she has gained valuable international exposure for the NRI, helping to further establish our credibility and solidify the NRI’s global reputation as the leader in nutrition science.”
By influencing the nutrition recommendations of health professionals, and personal diet decisions of the public, Dr. Cheatham’s lecture is one more example of how the NRI contributes to the health of future generations.
NRI’s Melanie Spencer, Postdoctoral Research Associate, featured in Charlotte Observer (more)
NRI Study Aims to Determine Cause of Male Infertility (more)
Almost half of male infertility cases have no known cause. Research being done in our area may be able to provide some answers.
The study is being conducted at the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis. “This is a project that I’ve been trying to get up and running for a while now,” said Amy Johnson, a PhD student at UNC Chapel Hill. Johnson first started studying mice and found a link between a certain gene and infertility. “We found that if you delete the choline dehydrogenase gene males are infertile,” she said.
Jordan and her team are now working to find out if the same is true for humans. For the research, they need volunteers to provide samples of blood and semen. Volunteers will be paid $50 for participating in the study.
In addition to determining a possible cause, the research may lead to a possible cure for a type of male infertility. “It could be that men that have their share of these variants might have different dietary requirements for choline, which is an essential nutrient,” Johnson said.
For more information about the study, call 919-966-0245 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
UNC Nutrition Research Institute Study Reveals Choline-Rich Diet Increases Blood Vessel Development in Fetal Brain (more)
For Immediate Release – July 20, 2010
KANNAPOLIS- Prenatal diets lacking in choline—an essential nutrient that is part of all cell membranes— form fewer blood vessels in the brains of developing fetuses, according to a mouse study by UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) scientists.
These findings, published in the journal, “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” could be of great importance to women. According to NRI Director Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD, “most pregnant women in the United States have diets that are choline deficient – only 14% of expecting mothers in the US are eating enough choline in their diet.” Pregnant women with the lowest amount of choline are four times more likely to have babies with birth defects than are women who eat the most. Choline-rich foods include milk, egg yolks, soybeans, beef, chicken, peanuts, wheat germ, flax seeds, sesame seeds, potatoes, cauliflower, lentils, and oats.
To test whether choline directly affects fetal blood vessel formation, Zeisel, and colleagues fed choline-deficient and control diets to pregnant mice and then examined the brains of the pups. The researchers report that choline-deficient fetal mice had fewer hippocampal blood vessels than the control group that were fed a normal diet. In addition, the choline-deficient diet correlated to high levels of two growth factors that regulate new blood vessel formation.
This research complements previous studies that link low choline in diet to a decreased production of nerve cells in the brain of fetal mice, caused because choline regulates the genes that make stem cells divide.
UNC NRI Welcomes Renowned International Scientist to Advance Research on Personalized Nutrition (more)
For Immediate Release – June 18, 2010
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis, NC is continuing growth trends, demonstrating an increasing level of activity and development. One example of this growth is internationally-renowned researcher and accomplished author, Martin Kohlmeier, M.D., Ph.D., who is relocating to Kannapolis to join the NRI team.
Dr. Kohlmeier brings with him an impressive professional resume. He earned doctorates in medicine, biochemistry and clinical biochemistry from Heidelberg University and Freie Universität, Berlin, has authored a comprehensive textbook on nutrient metabolism, and is the lead author of numerous online nutrition courses for healthcare professionals. In addition to his new role as faculty and primary investigator in the NRI Nutrigenetics Laboratory, Dr. Kohlmeier will maintain his appointment as a Research Professor with the Department of Nutrition, UNC-Chapel Hill, School of Medicine and School of Public Health.
Dedicated to helping the public benefit from the recent advancements in genetics and nutrition, Dr. Kohlmeier explains, “We can now read the body’s DNA blueprint down to very fine details and I want to help translate this knowledge into practical directions for people’s health. For instance, I am currently developing software that can take detailed genetic information and tell consumers which foods are healthiest for them.”
Dr. Kohlmeier is now developing ways to reduce breast cancer risk by using genetic research to guide food selections. “I want to find out whether we can help each individual navigate safely their daily food choices and how that might affect cancer risk.”
Recognizing the trends toward online education, Dr. Kohlmeier has developed a website that can help tailor personalized nutrition plans, based on user and health professional’s input. With this data, the site suggests daily menu plans that meet personal needs.
The website is now available for pilot testing by health professionals who leverage it to generate menu plans. Ultimately, consumers will be able to use this online tool to shape their diet patterns. Also, the tool will be used in long-term trials of personalized nutrition plans for the prevention of cancer and other major diseases.
This and other medical nutrition education online programs by Dr. Kohlmeier have proven to be very successful for physicians. Dr. Kohlmeier explains, “About 25% of all US medical students currently use our programs, and more than 150 universities worldwide.”
Notably, Dr. Kohlmeier authored Nutrient Metabolism, a textbook describing how the body handles about one hundred important compounds in food, from alcohol to zinc, and back from zeaxanthin to arsenic. The textbook outlines the major food sources of these compounds, and additional related information, such as our chemical senses, appetite and thirst, and the nutrient path from food to the using body part.
The strength of the book is that a rich collection of information on each of the food ingredients is easily accessible in one place, making it a powerful resource for researchers, health professionals, and anyone needing nutrition facts at their fingertips.
Dr. Steven Zeisel, Director of the NRI, shares, “Dr. Kohlmeier is one of the world’s leaders in laboratory diagnostics, nutritional genetics and use of technology for nutritional education. He brings more than thirty years experience to the NRI, and he will contribute a significant amount of research leadership to the Institute.”
Dr. Kohlmeier is equally eager to begin his contribution to the NRI, stating, “The NRI offers an exciting opportunity to use state-of-the-art technology, collaborate with world-class researchers and share a focus on individualized nutrition.”
You can help make a difference
With each new researcher that joins the NRI team, the benefits to future public health are exponential. To recruit top-flight researchers like Dr. Kohlmeier and build the world’s next premier institute for scientific discovery, the NRI must compete with other science centers and universities. Visiting scholar programs, endowed professorships, and competitive research funds that attract distinguished scientists to the NRI are made possible by the generous gifts of friends and supporters.
If you are interested in helping the NRI recruit great scientists from around the world, visit UNCNRI.org/MakeAGift.asp to learn about ways you can help make a difference.
UNC NRI Partners with International Researcher from Keimyung University, Korea (more)
For Immediate Release – June 30, 2010
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) in Kannapolis, NC welcomes Dr. Seung-Wan Ryu, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Ryu, Associate Professor in Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery at the Keimyung University School of Medicine in Korea, is visiting the NRI to collaborate on cutting edge nutrition research, critical to his role as Director of the Nutritional Support Team at Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center.
Dr. Ryu joined the NRI in September 2009 to focus on how nutrition impacts stomach cancer. Specifically, Dr. Ryu is studying whether dietary choline, found in eggs and other foods, influences the growth of blood vessels needed to support tumor growth. Dr. Ryu and Dr. Steven Zeisel M.D., Ph.D., Director of the NRI, are collaborating on this research. Dr. Ryu shares, “I am very grateful for Dr. Zeisel’s active support of my work on all possible occasions. All the staff and scientists at the NRI are so kind and their passion for learning is amazing.”
Dr. Ryu explains that as a University Professor in Korea, he is provided the opportunity to study abroad for one to two years, funded by a specialized Keimyung University scholarship. The study of nutritional support of cancer patients is still evolving, and Dr. Ryu explains that his time with the NRI affords his team in Korea significant research collaboration and clinical application opportunity. He intends to continue the relationship after his return home, sharing, “I will introduce our research to Korean and other doctors using an international conference, and will continue nutritional research on the basis of my NRI experience. I will want to remain in contact with the NRI forever.”
Dr. Ryu has become an integral partner in the NRI choline lab over the past few months, as Dr. Zeisel states, “We are thrilled to host such a dedicated and promising scholar who is well-positioned to develop international research partnerships for years to come. Dr. Ryu is a bright young scientist, and I appreciate his collaboration, both here at the NRI this year, as well as on longer term research projects.”
With his family, a wife and two young children, Dr. Ryu moved to America last September, living abroad for the first time. They held some concern about the move, as few Koreans live in this area, and they prepared for an obvious language barrier and cultural difference. However, the Ryu family has found a helpful embrace by the locals. “Everyone is so kind. We really enjoy American life, and now have many American friends who really want to help us. I will recommend the NRI and this area to other doctors who want to study nutrition.”
Unlike Dr. Ryu, many young scientists do not have a scholarship opportunity from their home university or local government. If you are interested in helping a young scholar like Dr. Ryu partner with the NRI toward critical research, visit uncnri.org/MakeAGift.asp to learn about the NRI’s Great Scientist Recruitment Fund.
NRI receives gift to fund Balchem Scholarship (more)
$110,000 gift from Balchem Corporation will expand work of NRI Research Assistant and enable further choline discovery. More
Press Release articles: New epigenetic study linking maternal diet and brain development in gestating mice, Mihai George Mehedint, M.D. (more)
Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D. presents research at Harvard's 11th Annual Postgraduate Nutrition Symposium (more)
North Carolina People with Bill Friday interviews Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D. (more)
Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D. delivers prestigious W.O. Atwater Lecture at 2009 Experimental Biology Meeting (more)
The People's Pharmacy interviews Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D. (more)
Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D. on the Oprah Show (more)