Harris Teeter, The Dickson Foundation establish first Professorship at UNC Nutrition Research Institute

When Charlotte, N.C. native Alan T. Dickson first visited the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (N.R.I.) in nearby Kannapolis, N.C., during the winter of 2010, it didn’t take him long to decide he wanted to be actively involved. After a few hours of exploring laboratories and discussing the N.R.I.’s bold vision with Director Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., he accepted an invitation to serve on the N.R.I.’s accomplished Board of Advisors.

Just a few months later, Dickson took a particular interest in the N.R.I.’s faculty recruitment efforts. “One of the greatest challenges in building a world class center, particularly one that is located two hours from its ‘traditional’ campus, is creating intellectual capital,” Zeisel said. “Yet we know the strength and ultimate success of the center rests in our ability to recruit the best scientists.” Dickson agreed to spearhead a board effort to generate five privately funded, endowed distinguished professorships to help the N.R.I. attract great scientific minds.

And he kicked it off by making the first pledge—a joint gift of $666,000 from the Dickson Foundation and Harris Teeter, a subsidiary of Ruddick Corporation, which Dickson and his brother, Stuart, built into one of North Carolina’s leading firms. The gift will be matched with $334,000 from the North Carolina Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust to create a $1,000,000 endowment fund. This generous gift will create the N.R.I.’s very first endowed distinguished professorship, The Dickson Foundation-Harris Teeter Distinguished Professorship in Nutrition. Once fully endowed, this professorship will generate an annual disbursement to support a designated N.R.I. faculty member and foster scientific discovery.

“We are pleased to make this gift to the N.R.I. It makes sense for Harris Teeter to take a leading role in developing the future of nutrition, and we believe in the N.R.I.’s mission of customizing diet recommendations specific to an individual, in an effort to optimize wellness,” Dickson said. “With this gift, we are making an investment in the future health of people in Charlotte, across North Carolina, and around the world. At the same time, we are building a new economic engine for the Charlotte region.”

Dickson, a former chairman of the board at Ruddick Corporation, is a highly regarded business and community leader and has served on the boards of numerous corporations, schools and foundations. He was a trustee of The Morehead Foundation for 42 years and served as chairman for 21 years until retirement. He has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Watauga Medal from North Carolina State University and the Spirit Award from the Mint Museum of Art. In 2006, Dickson received the prestigious William Richardson Davie Award from the UNC Board of Trustees, its highest honor, in recognition of his extraordinary service to the University.

Both Alan and his wife Mary Anne have been stalwart supporters of UNC for many years, and this is the latest demonstration of their commitment to the University’s mission to not only serve its students, but also the state of North Carolina, the nation and the world as well. Mary Anne heads the Carolina Women’s Leadership Council, a network of women committed to supporting the University and the educational experiences of students.

At the N.R.I., Dickson has been indispensable. Through his service on the board, he has championed the N.R.I. to Charlotte-area business leaders and opened doors for a host of collaborations. From early on, he attended N.R.I. faculty presentations where he learned about research spanning the field of nutrition—from how different nutrients affect the developing memory of babies to revolutionary new tools that make custom-tailored, genetically-based diet recommendations possible.

“Alan is a tremendous asset to the N.R.I.,” Zeisel said. “With his advice and expertise, we are paving the way for the N.R.I. to become a world leader in nutrition science. He understands the importance of a strong foundation and is a valuable sounding board for initiating new ventures and developing our tactical strengths.”

The Dickson Foundation-Harris Teeter Distinguished Professorship in Nutrition is an essential cornerstone for the N.R.I. An endowed chair is a widely recognized measure of respect and achievement that also supports the research of the faculty recipient.

“This is a transformative gift for the N.R.I., an important historical landmark in our development,” Zeisel said. “Alan Dickson is a true pioneer, and we are proud to have him with us at the helm of economic development and scientific innovation. We hope that others will follow his lead, take a personal interest in our center and help us become the world’s leading center for nutrition science research.”

About the UNC Nutrition Research Institute

In September 2005, eight universities from the UNC system, leaders of private industry including Dole and LabCorp, and the State of North Carolina announced the creation of a public-private partnership known as the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC). The Campus, situated in Kannapolis, NC, officially opened in August 2008 and is fast becoming the center for state-of-the-art, world class nutritional and scientific research.

The cornerstone of the NCRC is the UNC-Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute (NRI). In the proven tradition of Carolina enterprise, the NRI was one of the first partners on the campus, and quickly established its bold mission: develop nutrition-based solutions designed to solve some of our greatest health challenges and, most importantly, to put these solutions into practice.

Since its inception, a growing cadre of world-class researchers has joined the NRI team. These experts are developing innovative approaches to understanding how nutrition affects brain development and contributes to the prevention and treatment of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases. To facilitate this progress, the NRI’s experienced team of scientists is leading the development of the field of “individualized nutrition” – understanding why people’s metabolism and nutrition requirements differ from one another.

Because most traditional approaches to nutrition only consider the “average person,” the relatively recent technologies employed by the NRI stand out because they customize nutrient requirements specific to an individual. The NRI’s research elevates the previous one-size-fits-all nutritional approach to a higher methodology that incorporates individual genetic and metabolic variations. Essentially, the NRI is unraveling the relationship between genes, diet and individual variability in nutrition and metabolism. With recent recognition by the international scientific community that each person’s metabolism and nutritional requirements differ, the field of individualized nutrition is becoming mainstream. Just another example of how people nationwide are benefitting from a Carolina-grown influence.

One example of this mainstream trend toward nutrition-based wellness is the cover story for the September 12, 2011 issue of Time Magazine, featuring an article by Dr. Mehmet Oz, surgeon, author and talk show host. In the article, Dr. Oz recognizes the NRI and its leadership in the field:

“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.”
(Oz, Mehment. “The Oz Diet.” TIME 12 Sept. 2011: 48-58.)

With the UNC NRI leading the way, the pioneering individualized approach to nutrition will transform society’s ability to prevent and treat diseases, thus improving the wellbeing of people around the world and transforming