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Three Young Researchers Awarded Nutrition-Related Research Grants

Through these grants, the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences targets the work of early-career investigators to provide seed grants to research projects anchored in critical areas of public health.

Published March 22, 2016

NEW YORK, March 22, 2016 — The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences announces the winners of a grant for early career investigators (i.e., those with no more than 5 years postdoctoral experience). The grants are intended to support young researchers doing critical, by early-stage work in the areas that the Sackler Institute focuses its Working Groups:

  • Obesity, Diabetes, and Nutrition-related Diseases,
  • Nutrition for Aging Populations Topics, and
  • Technology and Innovation in Agriculture, Food, and Nutrition.

"With these seed grants, we 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," says Mireille McLean, MPH, Director, The Sackler Institute.

By opening submissions to research projects with diverse methodological approaches-from analysis of health survey data to qualitative and clinical studies-the Sackler Institute sought to reach a wide variety of research projects spearheaded by young researchers, some of whom may be serving as a Principle Investigator for the first time.

Congratulations to the three winners for their innovative research projects that have the potential to impact human nutrition and health:

Shauna Downs, PhD, Earth Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, for the proposed research project, "Identifying Interventions to Promote the Production and Consumption of Healthy and Sustainable 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," says Dr. Downs.

Her project uses enhanced value chain analysis to identify interventions to promote the production and consumption of healthy and sustainably produced oils in Myanmar. The research intends to inform the development of interventions aimed at reorienting food system incentives towards the production and consumption of healthier and more environmentally sustainable edible oils.

Xinyin Jiang, PhD, RD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, proposed the research project, "Prenatal Betaine Supplementation as a Treatment for Macrosomia in a Mouse Model of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus."

"In Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (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," says Dr. Jiang.

Betaine, a dietary bioactive compound, serves as a methyl donor and enhances energy metabolism and insulin signaling. This study aims to examine the effect of betaine on maintaining placental macronutrient homeostasis and preventing GDM-associated macrosomia through the use of mouse models.

Rena Zelig, DCN, RDN, Assistant Professor and Director of the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition program, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers School of Health Related Professions, proposed the research project, "Exploring the Associations between Dentition Status, Nutritional Status, and the Eating Experience in Older Adults-A Mixed Methods Study."

"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 Dr. Zelig.

This study will build on prior research to 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 dentition.

The Sackler Institute would like to thank its panel of reviewers for their time and expertise:

  • Jason P. Block, MD, MPH, Harvard Medical School / Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute
  • Julianne Curran, PhD, Pulse Canada
  • Anna Herforth, PhD, Independent Consultant
  • Maureen Huhmann, DCN, RD, CSO, Nestle Health Science
  • Heather Keller, RD, PhD, University of Waterloo / Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging
  • Kristina H. Lewis, MD, MPH, SM, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
  • Michael McBurney, PhD, FACN, DSM Nutritional Products LLC
  • Karen Teff, PhD, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

For more information on the winners, reviewers, and the Sackler Institute's Research Fund.

For media inquiries, please contact Diana Friedman (; 212-298-8645).

About The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science
The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences is dedicated to advancing nutrition science research and knowledge, mobilizing communities, and translating this work into the field. The Institute is generating a coordinated network across sectors, disciplines, and geographies that promotes open communication; encourages exchange of information and resources; nurtures the next generation of scientists; and affects community intervention design and public policy changes. Visit for more information.

About the New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Sciences is an independent, not-for-profit organization that since 1817 has been committed to advancing science, technology, and society worldwide. With more than 20,000 members in 100 countries around the world, the Academy is creating a global community of science for the benefit of humanity. The Academy's core mission is to advance scientific knowledge, positively impact the major global challenges of society with science-based solutions, and increase the number of scientifically informed individuals in society at large. Please visit us online at


Marie Gentile
Director, Communications