Janos Zempleni

Janos Zempleni
Principal Investigator and Center Director

I am the Founding Director and Principal Investigator of the Nebraska Center for the Prevention of Obesity Diseases through Dietary Molecules (NPOD).

NPOD’s past achievements and trajectory speaks to my ability to lead the Center in Phase 3. For example, NPOD members have secured nearly $195 million in external funding in Phases 1 and 2 to date, which equals a return of $36 for each dollar invested by the institution.

I have developed a new Research Core, which pays 84% of the average annual operating costs through user fees.

I have initiated the pursuit of sustaining NPOD infrastructure by negotiating institutional commitments, participating in discussions with a donor, adjusting the pilot grants program to focus on the pursuit of large external grants, and identifying a group of accomplished investigators with an interest in competing for an NIDDK-funded regional NORC in the future.

NPOD has set benchmarks for diversity, equity, and inclusion among research centers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For example, NPOD leadership is shared by a man and a woman, three of the five members of the external advisory committee in Phases 1 and 2 are women, nine of the 19 RPLs are women, and the Center has hired two RPLs from underrepresented minorities (Hispanics). The 571 trainees in NPOD laboratories include 28 (4.9%) African American and 34 (6%) Hispanic pre- and postdoctoral students, which matches or exceeds the percentage of African-Americans (5.4%) and Hispanics (1.7%) in Lancaster County, NE, where UNL is located. Three hundred twenty-five (57%) of the trainees are women. Thirteen NPOD members are Assistant Professors, 16 are Associate Professors, and 30 are Full Professors.

NPOD is unique among obesity research centers in that it focuses on bioactive compounds in foods that prevent, treat and cure obesity and co-morbidities. I am ideally positioned to oversee a center that realizes the health benefits of bioactive foods. My laboratory was the first to demonstrate that exosomes and their RNA cargos in milk have biological activities within kingdoms (animal-to-animal/human) and across kingdoms (animal/human-to-bacteria). I am listed among the top 2% of the most cited researchers worldwide both throughout their careers and in a single year. For my pioneering discoveries in small extracellular vesicles (exosomes) in milk and their cargos, I was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and received the prestigious Osborne and Mendel senior investigator research award from the American Society for Nutrition. I have delivered more than 250 conference presentations and 75 invited presentations in Australia, Austria, China, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States. I have been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA), National Science Foundation (NSF), industry, and/or foundations since September 2000 (securing more than $50 million in external funding) and routinely direct projects that involve multiple investigators.

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Carol Casey

Carol Casey
Associate Center Director

My roles in NPOD include serving as the associate director and UNMC liaison, as well as providing mentorship to young investigators. My position at UNMC will enable me to be aware of emerging opportunities, including new hires that would fit the center’s programmatic focus. I am a dedicated mentor and committed to guiding junior faculty to independence. I have been actively involved in mentoring young investigators at UNMC as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition, other key responsibilities include identifying candidates for NPOD membership and pilot projects at UNMC, evaluating of pilot project recipients, and identifying speakers for the NPOD seminar series and themes for spring research retreats and fall research symposia.

I have been actively involved in the field of alcoholic liver injury for more than 35 years, with special emphasis on alcohol’s deleterious effects on protein and lipid droplet trafficking. We have used in vitro biochemical-based experimentation combined with in vivo animal models to define important effects of toxin exposure (including ethanol) on endocytic internalization and recycling of hepatocyte receptors, as well as on altered lipid droplet metabolism and trafficking. In our current work, we are part of a National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)-funded program to provide a comprehensive approach using biochemical, cell biological, imaging, and animal-based methods toward understanding how ethanol and/or high fat consumption affects the dynamics of lipid droplets and lipid metabolism in hepatocytes, and a Veterans Affairs (VA) Merit Award focused on how alcohol-impaired Golgi function alters protein trafficking.

In addition to my role as a principal investigator on extramurally and intramurally funded projects, I am the director of the NIAAA P50 Alcohol Center (Alcohol Center of Research-Nebraska – ACORN). I currently serve as a professor of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (Departments of Internal Medicine and Biochemistry) and a research career scientist at the Omaha VA Medical Center. I have served as a member of many grant review panels for both NIH and the VA, and I served on the NIAAA Council.

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