The UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) welcomes Susan Smith, Ph.D., who joins the research facility’s roster of scientists this month. Dr. Smith is an internationally recognized expert on how nutrition affects birth defect risks.  Currently she focuses on why there are differences among babies in their sensitivity to alcohol during pregnancy; why only some children develop birth defects when their mothers drink alcohol during pregnancy. Dr. Smith’s laboratory has also studied nutritional concerns in children and adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. FASD is the leading known cause of permanent developmental disability and affects 2.6% – 4.6% of U.S. school children. The World Health Organization identifies prenatal alcohol exposure as a priority health risk in pregnancy.

Dr. Smith is an expert in the mechanisms and risk for dietary compounds that interfere with prenatal development, with an emphasis on alcohol but also on vitamin A, dioxins, and groundwater contaminants. Her contributions in the birth defects field are recognized in numerous publications and collaborations and by a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, associate editorship at Birth Defects Research A, chair of the NIH study section Neurotoxicology and Alcohol, and numerous talks and conference organizer positions.

Her research at the NRI will continue this investigatory line to understand how alcohol alters the developing brain and face using rodent, zebrafish and avian models, and she will expand her research into how nutrient needs are altered by alcohol and FASD, both in animal models and in individuals with FASD.

“It’s an honor to join such talented colleagues. I look forward to exciting new research collaborations with NRI and UNC investigators, and especially those who help us understand how nutrition drives disease risk in pregnancy and across the lifespan,” said Dr. Smith.

“Dr. Smith is an accomplished scientist and teacher,” said Steven H. Zeisel, Ph.D., M.D. and NRI director. “We are very fortunate that she chose to join us at the NRI in Kannapolis to help with our mission to understand why people differ in their nutritional needs.”