Nebraska Gateway to Nutrigenomics 5th Annual Retreat

2013 Annual Retreat – Future Leaders in Nutrigenomics                                                                               

Each year, the Nebraska Gateway to Nutrigenomics hosts a free, day-long retreat for faculty, postdocs, students, staff, industry partners, and other interested parties to provide an opportunity to explore relevant topics and to network with fellow researchers in academia and industry.   The retreat this year was held on May 13 at the Nebraska East Union.  Following this year’s theme, Future Leaders in Nutrigenomics, exceptionally productive researchers in early stages of their careers (postdocs, advanced doctoral students) were identified through a competitive process that involved external nominations made by veteran scientists at other institutions, and then the five top nominees were selected by the NGN Leadership Team to receive Future Leader Awards.  These recipients presented their research at the 2013 Annual Retreat.  The agenda also included a keynote presentation given by a veteran researcher from Penn State University, and the day concluded with our traditional Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Poster Competition session.   

The Speakers                                                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                                                                       Keynote Speaker

Dr. Margherita T. Cantorna—Penn State University
“Vitamin D, the Microbiome and Immune Mediated Disease”

Dr. Cantorna is a Professor in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at Penn State University. She received her BS in Chemistry from the University of Illinois and her PhD at the University of  Madison-Wisconsin in the Department of  Medical Microbiology and Immunology.  For her post-doctoral fellowship she stayed at the University of Madison but moved to the Biochemistry Department.  Her first appointment at the Pennsylvania State University was in the Department of Nutrition and she moved to her present position in 2006. 

Since 1983, it was known that cells of the immune system had receptors for vitamin D.  The major achievements in the Cantorna lab have established what the role of those receptors are in the ability of the immune system to sense environmental changes in the availability of vitamin D. The work in the Cantorna lab has established that vitamin D availability from either sunshine exposure or diet is an environmental factor that affects the development of the immune system and, as a consequence, the development of immune mediated diseases.  Dr. Cantorna’s research is unique in that it has contributed to the fields of physiology, biochemistry, nutrition, immunology, and public policy related to vitamin D. In addition, the work has implications for public policy and the determination of nutritional standards for vitamin D.

Dr. Cantorna has been invited to sit on numerous review panels in both nutrition and immunology.  She was recently awarded the 2012 Osborne and Mendel Award by the American Society for Nutrition.  In addition, she has been invited to speak at the national meetings for several different scientific societies including most of the Nutrition Societies both in the US and abroad.


Future Leaders

Dr. Jingjing Duan—Georgia Institute of Technology
Mentor: Dr. Alfred Merrill
“The Chemo Structural and Functional Properties of Dietary Sphingolipids”
Dr. Duan’s interests include chemostructural and functional properties of dietary sphingolipids, as well as other bioactive dietary substances; the relationships between the exogenous (dietary) and the endogenous sphingolipids, such as digestion and absorption of dietary sphingolipids; their impact on sphingolipids metabolism; and the effect of cellar membrane functions. Dr. Duan joined Dr. Alfred Merrill's lab at Georgia Tech as a postdoctoral fellow to study on a very novel category of sphingolipids, 1-deoxysphingolipids, after a significant training experience in both China and Japan. She obtained a PhD from the Laboratory of Marine Bioproducts Technology, Applied Biosciences Kyoto University, in March 2012. Her findings on sphingolipids have been presented in several conferences in the US, Japan, and China, including the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) 11th annual meeting and the 9th Asian Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum (9AFAF). She has published 8 papers on sphingolipids in respectable journals. While a graduate student she also won several honors, including the 2012 “Topics Reward” from the Japan Society for Bioscience Biotechnology and Agrochemistry.



Dr. Naveen Kaushal—Penn State University
Mentor:  Dr. Sandeep Prabhu
“Selenium Dependent Eicosanoid Class Switching and its Consequences in Inflammatory Diseases”

Dr. Kaushal’s research focus has been to understand and delineate nutrition-based modulation of cellular signaling pathways involved in pathogenesis and their redox regulation, where inflammation is a critical player. His previous work shows that selenium (Se), an essential dietary micronutrient in the form of selenoproteins, acts in a well-coordinated manner to maintain the cellular redox status. These selenoproteins play a critical role in a variety of patho-physiological processes, such as hematopoiesis and anti-inflammation by modulating redox-sensitive molecular pathways. He uses a variety of inflammatory models, IBD (colitis) and cancers (leukemia) to study how variation in nutritional Se status modulates inflammation associated with these pathologies by carefully regulating the molecular pathways of resolution.


Ms. Yang Li—University of Tennessee
Mentor:  Dr. Guoxum Chen
“The Hepatic Raldh1 Expression is Elevated in Zucker Fatty Rats and its Over-expression Introduced the Retinal-induced Srebp-1c Expression in INS-1 Cells”

Yang Li obtained her bachelor’s degree from Wuhan University and became a graduate student in the Department of Nutrition at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2009.  Under the guidance of Dr. Guoxun Chen, she has been investigating the roles of hepatic retinoid catabolism in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism in the liver, and finished her PhD degree in May 2013. She has been the first author of one research paper published in PLoS One and a co-author in six other articles. 


Dr. Jian Yan—Cornell University
Mentor:  Dr. Marie Caudill
“Plasma Choline Metabolites Associate with Metabolic Stress Among Young Overweight Men in a Genotype-specific Manner”

Dr. Yan’s research interests span from investigating molecular mechanisms through which nutrients modulate disease development to conducting targeted nutritional intervention trials based on the mechanistic knowledge. His doctoral work included two separate choline dose-response studies employing stable isotope methodologies to investigate the effects of choline intake, genetic variants of one-carbon metabolic genes, and pregnancy on choline metabolism and choline dietary requirements. In 2011, Dr. Yan’s research was recognized by the Nutritional Sciences Council of the American Society for Nutrition, and he was awarded the Graduate Student Research Award. For his postdoctoral, he is focusing his research on maternal and fetal health, investigating the mechanisms underlying the fetal programming of chronic diseases (e.g. obesity and type 2 diabetes), as well as exploring the nutritional strategies in managing these diseases.


Dr. Frederique Yiannikouris—University of Kentucky
Mentor:  Dr. Lisa Cassis
“Deficiency of Angiotensinogen in Adipose Tissue or in Liver Prevents the Development of Obesity-Hypertension”


Dr. Frederique Yiannikouris received a BS and MS in Cellular Biology and Genetics and a MS in Human Nutrition and Food Sciences from Blaise-Pascal University, Clermont Ferrand, France. Dr Yiannkouris obtained a PhD in Human Nutrition in 2005 from Blaise-Pascal University supported by the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA), France, and in collaboration with Limagrain. Her research has focused on the improvement of the nutritional quality of the wheat (grains, flours and breads) and on the improvement of the nutritional status in B vitamins using rat model. Dr. Yiannikouris moved to the USA in 2007, and has undertaken a postdoctoral commitment in Nutritional Sciences in the GCNS (Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences) and, since 2012, in the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Pharmacology at the University of Kentucky.  Her research is focusing on the role of the renin angiotensin system and more specifically the role of angiotensinogen (AGT) in obesity related hypertension and atherosclerosis. She had obtained a T32 grant in 2009. By using Cre/lox technology, and has shown that adipocyte AGT deficiency prevents the development of obesity related hypertension.  She has presented her scientific work during national and international events on numerous occasions, notably in scientific sessions for High Blood Pressure Research, and received a new investigator award and several awards for outstanding scientific presentation.  She has published around 20 scientific peer-reviewed publications and, in the last year, she was the first author of two publications that were accompanied by two invited editorials that demonstrated the significance of her findings.



Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Poster Competition                                                             

Following the speaker presentations, the day concluded with NGN’s annual Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Poster Competition where young researchers have an opportunity to present their work as well as exchange ideas and visit with the speakers.  The competition this year included 20 outstanding research posters that represented 14 different laboratories and multiple departments at UNL and UNMC.  Posters were judged by 3 NGN faculty investigators on the overall presentation of the research, content, an oral explanation, and the relevance to Nutrigenomics.  The top three posters were selected.  Winners at this year’s May 2013 Nebraska Gateway for Nutrigenomics 5th Annual Retreat received a framed “Research Award” certificate along with a $150 cash prize.

Research Award Winners                                                                                                                                   

(Front Row Left to Right) Research Award winners Elizabeth Cordonier, Qinyin Shi, Sathish Kumar Natarajan. 
(Back Row) Poster session sponsor, Dr. Vicki Schlegel.

The 2013 NGN Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Poster Competition winners are:

Elizabeth Cordonier, Graduate Student
UNL Nutrition and Health Sciences
Research Faculty Advisor - Dr. Janos Zempleni
Poster title:  “Acetyl-CoA carboxylases are Checkpoints in Adipocyte Differentiation”
Sathish Kumar Natarajan, Postdoctoral Fellow
UNMC Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Research Faculty Advisor - Dr. Justin Mott
Poster title:  “Palmitoleic Acid Prevents Palmitate-Induced Cholangiocyte Lipoapoptosis”
Qinyin Shi, Graduate Student
UNL Food Science and Technology
Research Faculty Advisor - Dr. Vicki Schlegel
Poster Title:  “Effect of Phenotypic Transition on Candida Albicans Global Biochemical Configuration by Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) Spectroscopy”