Annual NUIP news & updates
August 2020 | Issue 4
Letter From the Chair
"I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."

– Frederick Douglass
The picture on the left reminds me of a different time, eons ago. Within an hour of that photo, the stands were filled with 46,879 people cheering on the Utes in an ever important final game of the 2019 football season. It was a joyful time, made even happier because of the recognition I was receiving for chairing such a terrific department at the University of Utah.

As we fast forward to today, the challenges are far more serious than the outcome of that football game. We face a viral pandemic that has already killed 180,000 Americans, revealing in daily death counts the stark health disparities in our country. In the midst of this catastrophe, we received multiple horrifying reminders about the racism that somehow still thrives. These events have thrown bare the self-evident truth that people in America are not yet equal.

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, our department had probably experienced its finest year yet. We celebrated the graduation of our first class of PhD students. Many of our faculty, staff and students received prestigious awards, including Dr. Kristine Jordan's Distinguished Teaching Award and Kennedy Springer's Gardner Prize. And our community engagement and laboratory research programs continued to grow at impressive rates, making fundamental discoveries that will one day improve the health of our population. I am always pleased to share such impressive accomplishments in our annual newsletter. This year, however, I'm even more proud to highlight our performance in the face of the incredible adversities our society now faces. My colleagues have risen to the challenges, endeavoring to make a difference.

  • I saw this when our masked faculty, staff and students delivered much-needed furniture items, acquired through a grant obtained by our University of Utah Center for Community Nutrition, to the Road Home Midvale Family Shelter.

  • I saw it when NUIP staff led efforts to create a Feed U Pantry facility on campus to combat food insecurity amongst students.

  • I saw it when our instructors worked overtime to adapt their courses and clinical practicums to assure that every student received superlative online educational experiences.

  • I also saw it when our courageous students endeavored to keep learning despite the new hurdles they now faced.

  • I saw it when our faculty, staff and students made the difficult choice to adapt their research or community engagement programs in the face of COVID-19 risks, sometimes changing plans midstream or coming to campus at odd hours to complete their studies while maintaining social distancing. I also saw it when they made the sometimes more difficult choice to suspend activities, so they could avoid putting their colleagues at risk.

  • And I saw it when groups of our faculty, staff and students embraced #shutdownstem to have the difficult conversations and initiate important changes to combat racism in our professions. You'll here much more about our exciting new endeavors below and in the coming months.

They have "prayed with their legs."

Thanks to all of you for striving to make our department and society a better place.

Take care, Scott
First Class of PhD Graduates
by Thunder Jalili, Director of Graduate Studies
NUIP is pleased to congratulate the first graduates of its PhD program: Drs. Patrick Ferrara, Jay Hydren, Anthony Verkerke, and Kary Woodruff. You are trailblazers!

This PhD program had a long and arduous path to acceptance. It was first envisaged ~10 years ago by prior Department Chair Dr. Wayne Askew and current Director of Graduate Studies Dr. Thunder Jalili. At that time, NUIP did not exist, but the faculty of the Division of Nutrition had a strong vision about how to advance nutrition and metabolism education at the university. This small academic unit, which had administered highly successful MS programs in clinical dietetics and nutrition science, was already teaching all of the courses needed to support a rigorous PhD curriculum. However, the small number of tenure-track faculty prevented implementation of the innovative, research-intensive degree track. Plans were temporarily shelved.

New developments in 2016 brought fresh hope to the idea of a PhD program. As the division expanded into NUIP, it gained new faculty members with robust research programs. Critical mass was achieved and in 2016 the PhD program was born! Word of our program soon spread around campus and faculty from other bioscience related departments joined us as adjunct faculty members and PhD mentors, further bolstering our research faculty ranks.

Currently, the NUIP PhD program offers tracks in Nutrition, Integrative Physiology, and Molecular Metabolism. More than 30 students are in the program and they aspire to some day meet the goal of becoming a doctor like the individuals below:
Jay Hydren, PhD

Dissertation Title
Vascular Function with Healthy Aging and Heart Failure with a Failure with a Left Ventricular Assist Device: Honing Assessment Techniques and Developing Restorative Interventions 
Patrick Ferrara, PhD

Dissertation Title
The Lands Cycle Modulates Plasma Membrane Lipid Organization and Insulin Sensitivity in Skeletal Muscle
Anthony Verkerke, PhD

Dissertation Title
Phospholipid Methylation Regulates Muscles Metabolic Rate Through Ca2+ Transport Efficienc

Kary Woodruff, PhD

Dissertation Title
Coordinated, Multidisciplinary Care for the Treatment of Eating Disorders: The Whole is Greater than the Sum of the Parts
Distinguished Teaching Award
Kristin Jordan, PhD, RD, CD
Gardner Prize - Outstanding Woman Student in the Health Sciences
Kennedy Springer, MS, RD
Fellow in the Academy of Health Science Educators
Staci McIntosh, MS, RD, CD
Utah Academy of Nutrition Award of Merit
Jean Zancanella, MS, RD, CD
Lindau Nobel Representative
Trevor Tippetts
Clinical Practicums Go Virtual
by Associate Instructors Sarah Boyt, MS, RD, CD and Rebekah Nicholson, MS, RD, CD
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a particularly onerous hurdle for the Coordinated Master’s Program supervised practice experiences, as most clinical and community partners cancelled in-person student placements. The CMP leadership reacted quickly, hiring recent program graduates Sarah Boyt and Rebekah Nicholson as Associate Instructors charged with developing a virtual summer internship experience. In collaboration with CMP Associate Director Jean Zancanella and other program faculty, they increased the proportion of "alternative" experience hours within the program while maintaining high standards for student competency and achievement. This team developed over 400 hours of innovative virtual learning experiences including telehealth simulations, community dietitian panels, educational electronic health records with realistic case studies, and marketing campaigns. The faculty team held weekly one-on-one virtual meetings with students to provide structure, support, and personalized guidance. They also kept communication open with community organizations and preceptors to reschedule and restructure over 45 student rotations, transitioning back to in-person experiences as soon as they were deemed safe by company, university, and state officials. Their efforts created novel opportunities for student collaboration with substance abuse recovery centers, hospice shelters, children's behavioral clinics, and clinical research metabolic kitchens. The remarkable team-effort highlighted the exceptional communication between CMP leadership and students and revealed tremendous fortitude in times of crisis. The NUIP leadership is thankful for all community and hospital partners, as well as the NUIP personnel, that made the summer clinical practicums a success.
[Sarah Boyt]
[Rebekah Nicholson]
[Working from home]
CMP Students Remain Perfect
For 2020, 100% of CMP graduates passed the Registration Examination for Dietitians on the first attempt! Nationally, the pass rate for coordinated programs is much lower.

Congratulations All!

Donors Take UUCCN to a New Level

Team Thrive Thrives!
After finishing two-years of data collection, Team Thrive found that their curriculum increased/maintained healthy behaviors, exceeding those of standard secondary-education curricula. Team Thrive has been developing a deliverable e-version of the curriculum with a third-party contractor. Due to the academic shutdown, they met remotely for editing and consultation while working on the final product. The program’s package includes a student workbook, teacher’s manual, and additional accessories that pair with lesson plans. They finished the design and development of the workbook in June and are nearing completion of the teacher’s manual.
Feed U Pantry

NUIP Associate Director of Administration, Sarah Elizabeth Garza-Levitt spearheaded an effort to address nutritional needs among students, leading the charge to create a new Feed U Pantry location in the Eccles Health Science Education Building (EHSEB).

Ms. Garza-Levitt tapped Utah Health’s network of academic and hospital administrators to create this pantry, which is a satellite of a unit located in the student union. She galvanized university partners, including Hospital Nutrition Care Services, which stocked the pantry with sandwiches, salads, fruits and vegetables that would otherwise have been discarded. Additional donations come from the Utah Food Bank and a variety of Salt Lake City businesses and non-profits.

Over 3,000 pounds of food have been recovered and redistributed through the partnership. “As soon as things were on the shelf, they were gone,” said Rodney Evans, a regulatory specialist at University Hospital Nutrition Care Services.

The work is the work of the Basic Needs Collaborative, which Ms. Garza-Levitt helps lead. The group recognizes that the student’s capacity to meet their basic needs has a direct impact on their health, safety, and success. This prescient philosophy has shown its worth during this Covid-19 epidemic.

Glucagon Be-Gone!
Holland and colleagues discover a new means to reverse type 1 diabetes in mice
A re-grown pancreatic islet in a previously diabetic mouse
Recent work by the Holland laboratory demonstrates a new means of regenerating the pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin, curing diabetes in mice!

Cells within the pancreas produce the hormones insulin and glucagon, which have opposing actions on blood glucose. Insulin decreases serum glucose levels by promoting the utilization and storage of glucose while simultaneously repressing glucagon secretion. Glucagon opposes these actions, stimulating glucose production by the liver. In type 1 diabetes, where the insulin-producing cells are destroyed, glucagon levels remain perpetually elevated. The increase in glucagon is an important, but underappreciated contributor to diabetes and its complications. Holland and colleagues found that blocking glucagon action in mice restored levels of BOTH insulin and glucose, effectively curing type 1 diabetes.

The work stemmed from their studies of drugs that block glucagon signaling through its receptors for the treatment of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The Holland team, which has been leading the charge on this novel class of compounds, encountered an unexpected observation – the drugs regenerated the insulin-producing cells. They have validated this effect in multiple mouse models of type-1 diabetes, finding that the new insulin-producing cells could withstand subsequent autoimmune attack. The drugs also showed beneficial effects in transplanted human islets. The work, which will soon be published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that suppressing glucagon production or action may be a viable means of treating type 1 diabetes.
Counting Hours, Not Calories
Welcome to the Team - Amandine Chaix
NUIP is pleased to welcome Dr. Amandine Chaix to its tenure track faculty ranks. Amandine was selected from a highly competitive, multi-department faculty search done in collaboration with the Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center. She did the pioneering work on time restricted eating, alongside her esteemed mentor Satchin Panda, while completing her postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute. Her work on intermittent fasting was published in prominent papers in Cell Metabolism and featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, Science Friday, BBC and CBS News. Her studies on the interaction between macronutrient metabolism and the circadian clock is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01) and the American Heart Association. Amandine will hold additional appointments in the Molecular Medicine and the Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center and will be a wonderful addition to our growing family.
Applying Metabolomics to Combat Colorectal Cancer
Playdon and colleagues identify associations between vitamin B6 and one-carbon metabolism with indices of colorectal cancer progression
Colon and rectum cancers are heavily influenced by nutritional cues in the diet, which can increase the risk for tumor formation and alter the growth and metastasis of the growing lesions. Mary Playdon teamed with Rama Kiblawi, an MD student from Ruprecht-Karls-University in Heidelberg, and Cornelia Ulrich, the Executive Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute, to understand metabolic changes among colorectal cancer patients. Leveraging samples collected through the large, prospective Colocare consortium, they probed the relationships between one-carbon metabolites, B vitamins and angiogenesis biomarkers. They found that pyridoxal-5’-phosphate (PLP), the active form of vitamin B6, and folate species within the one-carbon metabolism pathway, were associated with both inflammation and angiogenesis pathways, which are key features of disease progression. An analysis of prospective data in Colocare is now being conducted to evaluate whether PLP in the blood is linked to cancer survival to support the development of targeted dietary guidance for this population. You can learn more about their exciting study here.

Cycling Symmetry to Reduce Secondary Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries
Dr. Jim Martin and colleagues received Pac12 funding to improve outcomes following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction
Could a cycling intervention reduce the devastating consequences of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury?

"I felt a pop in my knee" is a common refrain from athletes after suffering an ACL injury. They often do not realize that their life had just changed forever; most never fully recover. One in four will have another ACL injury and 74% will develop knee osteoarthritis and eventually need joint replacement. The Martin laboratory is attempting to change recovery barriers to help these unfortunate athletes.

Martin and colleagues hypothesized that these dire outcomes result from compensatory movement patterns during recovery. To explore this idea and develop possible rehabilitation modalities, they are attempting to reduce compensatory patterns during submaximal cycling and evaluate the relationship between cycling symmetry and return-to-play outcomes.

Standard tests for assessing symmetry cannot be performed until several months after surgery, when imbalanced patterns may be difficult to correct. However, ACLR athletes often start performing cycling exercise within days or weeks after surgery. The Martin lab is testing whether assessments of symmetry during cycling, coupled with regular feedback about left-right balance and use of knee vs. hip actions, improves recovery. This feedback is available from commercial cycling “power meter” pedals, which cost less than $1000 and can be mounted on most exercise bikes. Early data from the Martin lab suggest that athletes can achieve excellent pedaling symmetry, provided they receive early feedback.

Their ultimate goal is to restore symmetry during ground-based locomotion: walking, running, and jumping and reduce subsequent injuries. They have tested 134 University of Utah athletes to access the relationships between symmetry during cycling and standard return to play assessments. These data in healthy athletes show strong relationships between ground-based and cycling symmetry. Positive data from this study could revolutionize standard of care in physical therapy following ACLR and other injuries.
Anyone that has been around NUIP the last few years has learned more than they probably want about ceramides, a class of fat-metabolites that contribute to diabetes and heart disease that are an obsession of the Department Chair. Annelise Poss, Mary Playdon, and Scott Summers interrogated ceramide levels in Utahans with Coronary Artery Disease, finding that they were robust, cholesterol-independent markers of the pathology. You can learn more about the study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in March of 2020, at the following link.
Sihem Boudina awarded $2.8M to Study a Developmental Heart Disease
Associate Professor Sihem Boudina, was awarded $2.8M from NIH/NHLBI to study the pathogenesis of left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy (LVNC).

LVNC is a rare, developmental heart condition that occurs in children. In affected patients, the heart does not effectively compact its left ventricle. The impaired heart is characterized by aberrant muscle protrusions called trabeculations, which cause life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms and weakness of the heart muscle. Most children with severe LVNC require heart transplantation.

Dr. Boudina and her collaborator Dr. Landstrom (Duke University) have found that genetic mutations in the PDRM16 gene can cause this disease. Using stem cells from patients with PRDM16 mutations, as well as mice that model the disease, the two laboratories will dissect the relationship between PRDM16 and LVNC. They will also test drug candidates that modulate events controlled by PDRM16 as possible treatments for this deleterious condition. 
Research by the Numbers
NUIP added two new NIH-grants to its arsenal this year, including a new NIH-R01 that interrogates the metabolic underpinnings of cardiac development and a severe genetically-driven cardiomyopathy. In total, the department has been awarded 11 NIH grants (active, see figure), including eight R01s, two SBIRs, and one R00 since 2017. Over these last 4 years, NUIP has also acquired grants from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (x3), American Heart Association (x2), American Diabetes Association, US Department of Agriculture (x3), and Pac-12. Total new grant dollars in NUIP now exceed $20M.
Combating Racism in Our Professions
George Floyd’s senseless and merciless murder has ignited a reckoning with the centuries of racism in our nation. In response to the violence perpetrated by systemic and systematic racism, we have shifted how we view even the most basic functions of our academic, research, and service work. Our diversity dialogue has been thrust into new frontiers and has deepened our understanding of the pain inflicted and experienced by our Black friends, neighbors, and colleagues. As a department, our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion is core to who we are. We are ready to act in ways that exemplify these values and create positive change in our community.

Through NUIP’s highly active Diversity and Inclusion Workgroup, we are committed to doing our part to make a difference. Since its inception in 2017, the workgroup has redesigned the department’s admission processes to incorporate a holistic model that values not only academic excellence but the lived experience of prospective students. This group also has infused health equity, diversity, and inclusion training in our curriculum and created funding opportunities for diversity scholars. Of course, this is just the beginning. We are moving in intentional and impactful ways to work toward ending the white supremacy that prevents diversification of our professions, and ultimately that limits our creative and innovative potential. We are ready to act as catalysts for positive change.
This year NUIP is embarking on the strategic goal to develop and pilot a pipeline program for underrepresented minorities to diversify our health professional programs. We aim to spark interest in health research and practice in school-aged youth. We will plan, develop, and pilot the program by the end of this academic year. To join us in our endeavors to create meaningful change, contact our workgroup chair, Sarah Elizabeth Garza-Levitt
Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Award 

Sarah Elizabeth Garza-Levitt received the Office of Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Leadership in Inclusive Excellence Award in recognition of her EDI work in UHealth.
Incoming NUIP EDI Fellow

Danielle Perez
Department Spring Banquet Awards
Special Service Award
NUIP Faculty

Volunteer of the Year
Miguel Saldivar-Gonzalez

Preceptor of the Year
Amy Reeder, MS, RD, CDE

The Constance J. Geiger Award
Jessica M. Pastuf, MS

The E. Wayne Askew Award
Trevor Tippetts

Distinguished Alumnus Award
Allen Tran, MS, RD, CSSD

Teacher of the Year
Mary Playdon, PhD, MPH
College of Health Awards
Jun Daniel
Staff and Advising Award

Dr. Kary Woodruff
Distinguished Teaching Award

Trevor Tippetts
Graduate Student Researcher Award

Alexandra Hernandez
Graduate Student Inclusive
Excellence Award