Last month, a research team from the Gillings School of Global Public Health received $170 million from the National Institutes of Health to fund centers that will study precision nutrition.
Two Gillings professors are leading the work – Elizabeth Mayer-Davis will serve as principal investigator for the clinical center and Susan Sumner will serve as principal investigator for the metabolomics and clinical analysis center.
“It’s really important to me that we demonstrate the importance of the North Carolina research campus and I think this grant has really helped to do that,” Sumner said.
Funding for the centers comes from two grants and will be used to establish a “common protocol” in the first year of the program. This protocol will provide guidelines and instructions for each clinical site and determine who is eligible to participate in studies and receive tests such as metabotyping.
The goal of these centers is to increase the knowledge and information that individuals have about their health, particularly about how certain environmental and chemical exposures can impact their metabolism.
“When we look at a person’s metabotype, we believe we can inform the development of nutritional intervention strategies,” Sumner said.
The research will present a way to form a genetic profile of an individual that can be used to inform decisions about diet, exercise and medication.
“You and I might eat the exact same food at the exact same time of day, but you might react very differently than I do,” Mayer-Davis said. “It has to do with differences in our genetic makeup and other aspects of biology.”
This search doesn’t just stop at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Other schools in the state, including UNC-Charlotte, NC State University and Duke University School of Medicine, will be involved.
“It was a different collection of people working together,” Mayer-Davis said. “And I was so grateful for everyone’s participation and to challenge each other scientifically, but to collaborate and come together in such a short period of time to make this winning proposal.”
Seeking an extremely competitive grant, the team worked together to formulate an application that demonstrated the impact these new centers could have. Mayer-Davis said this included organizing data and logistics, as well as determining how many people they needed to participate in the study.
“We brought people together and worked to think about exactly what science we wanted to deliver and all the logistics that we’ll need because we’ll be seeing and recruiting over 2,000 people just at our clinical site for the project,” he said. she declared.
Heidi Bleyer, a junior at Gillings, said she’s excited about the opportunities these nutrition centers bring to the Research Triangle.
“It’s amazing to be part of such a large research community,” Bleyer said. “It’s cool to have people in this school who can be mentors and have such a vast bank of knowledge and experience.”
Sumner and Mayer-Davis said this drive and interest in medicine among younger generations is exactly what they hope to achieve in the community.
The centers will provide opportunities for high school and college students to participate in collaborative nutrition research, Sumner said.
Another goal of the centers was to provide more job opportunities for North Carolina residents.
Not only will this project provide more opportunities for high school and college students, but it will create an emergence of research throughout North Carolina.
“I’m excited about this because it will just give a lot of opportunities to a lot of people, which really, at this point in my career, that’s what I want is to help other people succeed,” Mayer-Davis said.
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