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Kickstarting Innovative Nutrition Research

Meet the three young researchers who were just awarded Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science research grants.

Published April 01, 2016

Kickstarting Innovative Nutrition Research

Since 2012, the Academy's Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science has awarded research grants to scientists whose work focuses on filling in gaps in knowledge and evidence in the field of nutrition science. By helping to fill out the scientific community's understanding, these grants aim to drive evidence-based changes to policy and practice impacting public health around the globe.

This year, the grants took a slightly different approach. For the first time, this year's awards focus entirely on Early Career Investigators-scientists who are beginning to build a track record in their fields but need help building the financial and institutional resources that will help their research prove successful.

As Sackler Institute Director Mireille McLean, MPH notes, "With these seed grants, swe are testing the hypothesis that relatively small grants at critical time periods in a young researcher's career can lay the groundwork for larger scale research projects with strong relevance for public health and nutrition."

And it just so happens that all three winners this year are women, serving as great role models for younger women considering careers in STEM.

Learn a bit more about each of the winners and their work below.

Kickstarting Innovative Nutrition Research

Shauna Downs, PhD, is an Earth Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University. Her research project focuses on identifying interventions that help to promote the production and consumption of healthy and sustainably produced oils in Myanmar. "As the global population and growth in per capita income increases, our current food system will struggle to meet demand for sustainable, nutritious food in the face of multiple constraints including climate change and ecosystem preservation. There is a clear need to do more with less and in a 'better' way," notes Downs.

Kickstarting Innovative Nutrition Research

Currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Xinyin Jiang, PhD, RD, will be focusing her research on prenatal betaine supplements as a possible treatment for macrosomia in babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Jiang describes the importance of the research this way, "In GDM-complicated pregnancies, placental transport of fatty acids and glucose to the fetus is significantly elevated, resulting in fetal overgrowth, or macrosomia. Macrosomia predisposes infants to a greater risk of obesity and diabetes later in life." Her study will examine the effect of betaine on maintaining placental macronutrient homeostasis and preventing GDM-associated macrosomia through the use of mouse models.

Kickstarting Innovative Nutrition Research

Rena Zelig, RDN, Assistant Professor and Director of the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition program, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers School of Health Related Professions, will be exploring the relationships between dental health, diet, and the experience of eating among older adults. "The relationship between nutrition and oral health is synergistic. However, the impact of missing teeth and poor dentition on nutritional status and the eating experience has not been studied from the patient perspective," says Zelig. Building on prior research, Zelig's project will incorporate a quantitative self-administered tool that assesses nutritional status from the patient perspective as well as interviews to qualitatively evaluate the patient's eating experience. The findings of this study will serve as the basis for future patient-centered outcomes research. Study outcomes will also provide the infrastructure from which targeted diet interventions can be designed to improve diet quality and the nutritional status of older adults with impaired dental health.

Learn more about The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science Research Fund here, and learn about past winners here.