February 24, 2003

New center to focus on nutrition and health

By Tia Webster

Emory’s new Center for Clinical and Molecular Nutrition, a multidisciplinary research unit established last year in the Department of Medicine, is geared toward facilitating and strengthening the presence of nutrition-oriented research on campus.

In its effort to emphasize the importance of nutrition and nutrition research, the center will sponsor several seminars and symposia annually to educate faculty, students and other health care professionals.

The first, “Obesity: Causes, Consequences, Controversies and Care” was held Feb. 13, as an expert group of investigators—including faculty from Emory and several other U.S. medical schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Cancer Society—addressed areas such as the epidemiology of obesity in the United States and in the developing world; obesity as a risk factor for cancer and other chronic diseases; controversies in the dietary management and prevention of obesity; and behavioral, medical and surgical treatment of obesity.

“The science of nutrition is an integrative discipline that frequently doesn’t have a strong voice in medical schools,” said Thomas Ziegler, associate professor of medicine and director of the center. “We want our medical school graduates to be knowledgeable about nutrition and its appropriate use to treat and prevent illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer or diabetes.”

The center is co-directed by Sampath Parthasarathy, McCord Cross Professor of Gynecology/Obstetrics, and Dean Jones, professor of biochemistry.

Ziegler, who also directs the required second-year medical school course in nutrition, said nutrition is assuming ever-greater importance in new approaches to disease management, and the time is ripe to integrate and increase nutrition-oriented basic, translational and clinical research at Emory.

Along with Ziegler, Parthasarathy and Jones are enthusiastic about positioning Emory on the cutting edge of nutritional science.

“If we can carefully assess an individual’s nutritional state and specific nutrition-related endpoints such as antioxidant status, we can determine how to use diet or perhaps targeted nutrient supplements to correct nutritional deficiencies and improve health,” Parthasarathy said. “For this, and to achieve the nutrition center’s long-range plans and strategy initiatives, we need commitment, trained technical personnel, more nutrition-oriented faculty and increased doctoral and postdoctoral training opportunities. Emory already is recognized as a reputable clinical and medical school, but it can be enhanced by integrating a strong nutrition center.”

Jones envisions future opportunities in nutrition research and individualized patient care by using genomics (study of the human genome, or genetic code) and proteomics (study of the sequence of each human protein) for nutritional assessment of individuals.

“With the sequencing of the human genome, there have been tremendous developments in terms of understanding the unique genetic characteristics of individuals and what their needs are,” Jones said. “If we explore the implications of proteomics for nutrition, we have the possibility to assess an individual’s unique needs according to their specific genetic characteristics, lifestyle, chemical exposures, exercise and activity level, and individual risks.”






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