Carol Cheatham, PhD

Associate Professor, Psychology & Neuroscience 
Nutrition for memory and attention abilities

An important member of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute’s research team, Carol Cheatham, PhD, focuses on how nutrition can improve children’s brain function.  Specifically, her team studies the importance of nutrients for the development of memory and attention abilities.

Broadly defined, Dr. Cheatham’s research focuses on the relationship between an individual’s genome and the metabolism of nutrients, and how this leads to differences in cognitive and social development.  Specifically, she is interested in the development of memory and attention as they are the basis for learning, and therefore school readiness.  For example, her research asks if the supplementation of children’s diets with omega-3 fatty acids have an effect on their memory abilities over a determined period of time. Many different methods and tools are used in the Cheatham lab to assess abilities, including taking turns with the children building unique toys and the use of special equipment to read their brain activity while they are watching pictures on a computer screen.

“Dr. Cheatham is an expert on the importance of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils) for normal brain development,” said NRI Director Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD, “This is an exciting and promising area of research that is changing the way women eat during pregnancy and lactation.”

A graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, Cheatham earned her PhD in Child Psychology and Neuroscience in 2004. She then specialized in nutrition and pediatric brain development in the Kansas University Medical Center’s Department of Dietetics and Nutrition before joining UNC. She has published research on memory recall in infants born preterm, the role of fatty acids in neonatal brains, and how stress impacts brain development, as well as other topics.  Cheatham is the recipient of several honors and awards, most recently receiving the Distinguished Alumna of Northwest College Award and the New Investigator Award from the International Society for Study of Fatty Acids & Lipids.  In addition to her position at the NRI, Dr. Cheatham holds an appointment as an assistant professor in UNC’s Department of Psychology.

“I am very excited about the research being conducted at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute because it will advance the field significantly,” Cheatham said. “I look forward to the day when we will look out across a productive, bustling research campus and know that we were successful in our mission.”

For more information about Dr. Cheatham or to schedule an interview, please contact the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, 704-250-5008.



Research Team

Grant Canipe : <h4>Psychology Graduate Student, Cheatham Lab</h4>

Grant Canipe

Psychology Graduate Student, Cheatham Lab

Grant Canipe is a native of Concord.  He started at UNC with Dr. Cheatham in August of 2013.  In the past, Grant has focused on dopamine signaling along various pathways using nutritional and exercise interventions.  He hopes to continue expanding his knowledge in areas of development, particularly brain aging, using nutritional interventions.  As a graduate of Appalachian State University in May 2013, Grant will always call the Blue Ridge Mountains his second home.  He loves the outdoors!  You are likely to find Grant hiking, mountain biking, playing tennis, or riding his motorcycle.

Melissa Shaffer : <h4>Research Assistant, Cheatham Lab</h4>

Melissa Shaffer

Research Assistant, Cheatham Lab
(704) 250-5038

Melissa Shaffer joined the Nutrition Research Institute in January of 2020 as a research assistant in Dr. Cheatham’s Nutrition and Cognition Lab.  In 2015 she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. Melissa has a professional background working directly with underserved populations with addictions in the city of Philadelphia, but she is grateful and excited for the opportunity to begin a career in research. Melissa is passionate about how the research being conducted in the Cheatham Lab positively impacts both the immediate community surrounding it, as well as its potential to impact the global community.  Melissa hails from New Jersey, but she is enjoying discovering all the charms North Carolina has to offer.