Nutritional Science

NUTR1: Molecular Nutrition and Cholesterol Metabolism

Mentors: Dr. Christopher Blesso, Assistant Professor, Nutritional Science, and Gregory Norris, B.S., Graduate Assistant, Nutritional Science

The research in our lab focuses on the prevention and treatment of obesity and obesity-related chronic disease. More specifically, our research examines how diet and weight gain affect lipid and lipoprotein metabolism using both basic science and clinical approaches. We seek to understand the mechanisms of health and disease and study the molecular actions of various compounds naturally occurring in foods. For example, one class of naturally occurring compounds that we study are sphingolipids found in dairy and egg products. We currently have two main research projects focused on dietary bioactives and chronic disease. One involves investigating the effects of sphingolipid supplementation in mice on cholesterol metabolism, with a special interest in the high density lipoprotein fractions. Evidence has shown that sphingolipids influence lipid absorption and it is thought that one type of sphingolipid, sphingomyelin, may potentially offer protection from the development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The other project involves studying the health effects of antioxidant berry extracts. Studies have indicated minimal effects of berry extracts on total levels of blood cholesterol, but that they may alter the metabolism of cholesterol in major metabolic tissues by altering the flux in and out of cells. We mainly work with cell and mouse models; however, we hope to incorporate human trials in future years. Students in our lab could potentially gain experience in cell culture, working with mice (after receiving animal training), gene expression analysis using real time qRT-PCR, gel electrophoresis techniques, and more. A general interest in nutrition or biochemistry is recommended.