Nutrition and Integrative Physiology (NUIP)

Department Newsletter - 2018 

A Message from the Chair
Greetings NUIP friends and family.

When our revamped department launched in 2016, our faculty, staff and trainees embarked on an ambitious endeavor to advance (i) excellence in research, (iii) innovation in nutrition education, and (iii) engagement in the community. As evidenced herein, their extraordinary efforts are helping us reach our goals and translate new research discoveries about "metabolic health" into clinical and community practice. A subset of recent accomplishments include the following:

  • In FY18, NUIP researchers were awarded over $10 million dollars in new grant funds, a figure that includes several multi-million dollar NIH grants and reveals the remarkable growth of our research activities.
  • NUIP recruited two talented tenure-track faculty members with exceptional research pedigrees.
  • Julie Metos and her team launched the University of Utah Center for Community Nutrition (UUCCN), introducing new programs in schools and community centers to effect nutritional behavioral change. Thus far they have reached over 8000 people and Julie, in recognition of her humanitarian efforts, earned the prestigious Distinguished Faculty Service Award.
  • NUIP instructors launched team-based and community-based learning programs, moving courses away from traditional lectures into active and experiential learning modalities.

I encourage you to peruse the newsletter below, which highlights these and other accomplishments of our terrific team.

Thanks to all for a wonderfully successful year. I remain proud of our start and am excited to take the next steps in 2018-2019.

Best Regards,

Scott Summers, PhD

Professor and Chair, Nutrition and Integrative Physiology
Co-Director, University of Utah Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center
Research and Discovery
NUIP scientists and research scholars use a broad array of techniques to study model organisms and clinical populations, with an eye towards understanding mechanistically how diet, energy expenditure, and other environmental factors influence organ systems. Our research bridges virtually all of the sciences which study human biology (e.g. anatomy, biochemistry, epidemiology, genetics, etc.) and our scientists and clinicians maintain active engagement with other programs within University of Utah Health. We endeavor to translate new research findings into clinical procedures and community outreach programs that improve quality of life.
NUIP Researchers Awarded More Than $10M in New Research Grants and Awards in FY18
During FY18, NUIP investigators were awarded over $10M in new research grants or gifts, a figure that includes the following large ($500K to $2.5M) awards:

  • NIH-R01s to Holland, Summers, and Symons
  • NIH-R00 to Playdon
  • VA Merit Grant to Richardson
  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation grant to Holland
  • Driving out Diabetes Award to Metos
  • American Diabetes Association Grant to Summers

Investigators also received several smaller pilot grants to develop new projects and ideas:

  • Boudina ($50K from the III initiative)
  • Chaurasia ($50K from the III initiative, $40K from the Washington University Diabetes Research Center, and $35K from the VPR Funding Incentive Seed Grant Program)
  • Metos and Jones ($10K from Spouts)
  • Summers ($225K from the NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, $150K from the American Heart Association, and $47.5K from Huntsman Cancer Institute)
  • Velayutham ($150K from the USDA and $75K from the Blueberry Council)

Because of the bolus of new funds, NUIP's extramurally-funded research expenditures will easily exceed $2.8M in FY2019 (see figure).
Welcome to the Team!
New Assistant Professor Mary Playdon Applies Metabolomics to Identify Biomarkers Linking Diet and Cancer

Mary Playdon obtained her Ph.D. at Yale before completing postdoctoral studies in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). With a background as a clinical dietitian, Dr. Playdon's research program focuses on the interplay between nutrition and cancer. She has done pioneering research using metabolomics to identify biomarkers in order to improve dietary assessment, applying these methodologies to the study of breast cancer. Her research program in NUIP and the Huntsman Cancer Institute will further characterize promising dietary biomarkers, explore metabolic phenotypes in the development of endometrial cancer, and apply nutritional metabolomics to studies of cancer survivorship, including large cohort studies and dietary interventions. Dr. Playdon's research is supported by the Huntsman Cancer Institute, the Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center, and a K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health.
New Assistant Professor William Holland Probes the Nutrient-Sensing Pathways that Control Feeding and Fasting

 Born in Maui and raised in Colorado, Will Holland completed his PhD at the University of Utah and postdoctoral fellowship at UT Southwestern. Because of his research successes, Dr. Holland was retained by UT Southwestern and their Touchstone Diabetes Center as a tenure-track faculty member, starting his independent lab in 2013. His research has identified roles for a fat metabolite, termed ceramide, in the progression of diabetes, beta cell dysfunction, and cardiomyopathy. Dr. Holland has uncovered novel regulatory mechanisms that control the production of this toxic lipid, including unanticipated roles for circulating factors such as adiponectin and FGF21 as potent inducers of ceramide degradation. Dr. Holland’s current research focuses on (1) protecting fragile insulin producing beta cells and heart muscle cells from the lipid burden encountered in diabetic individuals; (2) evaluating mechanisms by which adiponectin and FGF21 promote beta cell survival and regeneration; 3) evaluating novel means of opposing glucagon’s hyperglycemic effects in diabetes; and (4) understanding the complex biophysical and signaling mechanisms by which ceramide impairs insulin action and promotes cell death. Dr. Holland's research is supported by the Diabetes and Metabolism Research Center, a sponsored research agreement from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a Career Development Award from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and two R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health, 
Professor Dave Symons Identifies Novel Link Between Endothelial Cell Metabolism and Blood Flow

Pictured to the left: Symons and colleagues have mapped an intricate signaling mechanism linking autophagy, glucose metabolism, and vascular reactivity.

Autophagy (i.e., “self-eating”) is a lysosomal trafficking pathway that degrades nonessential or damaged intracellular constituents that accumulate during the normal life of a cell. Simply stated, autophagy is a garbage collection and recycling system that is essential to maintain tissue homeostasis.

Dr. Symons, in collaboration with postdoctoral fellow Dr. Leena Bharath, found that impairments in autophagic machinery, such as those seen in aging, impair vessel function. They completed an elegant series of studies mapping a novel signaling pathway by which defects in autophagy prevent release of the vasoactive compound nitric oxide. Curiously, they found a previously unidentified role for purinergic receptors that sense levels of ATP in this regulation of vascular dilation, revealing a provocative means by which blood vessels integrate energetic needs and blood flow.

The editors of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology (ATVB) identified the paper describing this work as the #1 Vascular Biology Manuscript for 2017 and awarded Dr. Bharath the Werner Risau Award which honors promising early career investigators.

Building upon this seminal work, Dave Symons was awarded $1.8M from the NIH (R01) to investigate the therapeutic potential of targeting this pathway to promote healthy aging.

NUIP researchers published more than 45 peer-reviewed papers and 2 book chapters in 2017-18. These included high impact factor (IF) papers published in Nature (Holland, IF=40), Journal of Clinical Investigation (Holland, IF=12.8), and Cell Metabolism (Summers, IF=17.6) as well as numerous other strong papers in specialized journals.

Innovation in Education
NUIP offers degree programs that train biomedical scientists, research scholars, and clinical dietitians. We strive to implement active, team-based and experiential strategies in all of our programs in order to transition students to a mode of learning ideally suited for lifelong careers as leaders in healthcare.
Associate Professor Kristine Jordan and CMP Student Ashleigh Libs Evaluate New Team-Based Learning Program
Team-based learning (TBL) is a structured form of active group learning that improves teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, and other skills relevant to the healthcare professional. Through a grant from the University Teaching Committee awarded to Associate Professor Kristine Jordan and Professor Thunder Jalili, NUIP piloted TBL in three graduate courses: Medical Nutrition Therapy I; Clinical Assessment and Research Methods Laboratory; and Metabolism of Macronutrients. CMP student Ashleigh Libs assessed the program as part of her Focused Area of Study project, learning that s tudents appreciated the group environment, directed learning, immediate feedback, and application questions. She also received helpful suggestions about how to increase class discussion time, assure fairness in grading, and control the scope of supplemental readings. NUIP remains committed to TBL, with plans to expand the program substantially in 2018-2019.
Note: Depicted above, Ashleigh Libs presented the findings of her FAS project entitled “The Implementation of Team-Based Learning into Graduate Level Dietetics Curricula” at the NUIP spring banquet. Ashleigh was awarded the Dean's Outstanding Poster Prize in recognition of the excellence of her work.
Assistant Professors Allison Riederer and Staci McIntosh Spearhead New Strategic Plan to Advance Excellence in Teaching and Learning
NUIP remains committed to maintaining its position as an exceptional educational unit. Recognizing that "standing still is moving backwards," we’ve created new administrative positions to catalyze innovation and advance excellence across all of our degree programs.

  • Assistant Professor (Lecturer) Allison Riederer will serve as the new Director of Teaching and Learning
  • Assistant Professor (Lecturer) Staci Mcintosh will serve as the Director of Undergraduate Studies and new Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning

Working with U-online and the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Allison and Staci created a plan to map NUIP degree programs, aligning course objectives, activities, and assessments in order to achieve specific learning outcomes. Starting this fall, they will be holding monthly in-service trainings that will focus on (a) teaching with technology, (b) best practices in pedagogy, and (c) utilization of formal program-based student feedback.
NUIP's Online Master's Degree Identified as One of the Best in the Nation

In 2018, NUIP received formal accreditation of its MS degree as an official online program. The degree program, directed by Associate Professor (Clinical) Katherine Beals, serves students with an undergraduate degree in dietetics or health sciences, advancing training in biochemistry, macro and micronutrient metabolism, and field research. The online format enables students working as registered dietitians to balance job responsibilities with course schedules. Using a metric that assessed quality, affordability, and online programming, the website BestColleges.Com has already identified our budding program as one of the best (17th) in the nation.
Culinary Medicine Goes IPE
NUIP Assistant Professor Theresa Dvorak (Lecturer) and School of Medicine Associate Professor Amy Locke introduced exciting new elements into their innovative Culinary Medicine curriculum. The graduate course, which teaches about the use of nutrition to combat disease, is the first of its kind to be offered to students in multiple different clinical disciplines (e.g. medicine, pharmacy, etc.), thus embracing the university's commitment to interprofessional education (IPE). This year's course also included new elements of role play and simulation activities to increase competency in health behavior counseling. Building upon their success, Theresa, Amy, and their colleagues with the UUCCN are now taking culinary medicine into the community. In partnership with our wonderful friends Paula and Joe Sargetakis at Frog Bench Farms, NUIP and the UUCCN held the first "Food is Medicine" event in June of 2018, providing interactive education on the intersection of food and health to practitioners from around the Salt Lake area.
NUIP's Julie Metos Helps Freshman Explore "Work, Wellness and the Great Outdoors"
Block U programs help freshmen adapt to college by providing cohort experiences that develop friendships with peers and increase access to faculty, peer mentors, and support services. For the last year, Julie Metos has taught the first College of Health themed Block U entitled “Work, Wellness and the Great Outdoors.” Students in the program created an academic plan that balanced career goals, personal wellness, and outdoor activities (e.g. canyoneering, urban biking, ice skating, rock climbing, and gardening). Congratulations to the group whose project “U Play to Make Stress Go Away” won a prize at the annual Block U year-end poster session.
Trainee Travel Grants
Research is an essential part of our educational programs and many of our trainees presented their work at national conferences. The following individuals were awarded competitive travel grants.

  • Karla M. Pires (Post-doctoral fellow, Boudina Lab, NIDDK Autophagy Meeting)
  • Trevor Tippetts (PhD student, Summers Lab, FASEB Science Research Conference on Regulation of Glucose Metabolism)
  • Chrissy Andrus (CMP student, Jalili lab, ASN)
  • Carolyn Ramous (Honors College, Symons lab, Experimental Biology)
  • Brett Cutler (Undergraduate student, Velayutham Lab, Experimental Biology)
  • Samira Gholami (Undergraduate student, Velayutham Lab, Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research)
NUIP Embraces Diversity and Inclusion
NUIP recognizes the extraordinary value of having diverse cultures, opinions, and ideas within our degree programs. Inclusion is essential for excellence.

NUIP faculty are active participants in NARI, the Native American Research Internship that provides dynamic summer research opportunities for Native American undergraduates interested in Health Science research. The program provides 10-week, paid summer internships, funded by the National Institutes of Health, for students to work in laboratories throughout Utah Health. The Boudina, Symons, Summers and Holland laboratories have been active participants over the last two years.

Chistopher (Rufus) Sweeney (pictured above) completed the NARI program in the Summers laboratory, winning an Outstanding Poster Presentation Award at SACNAS. Rufus stayed with NUIP for the following year, working in the Summers and Boudina laboratories. In the fall, he will be entering medical school at the University of Wisconsin, having earned an institutional scholarship that fully covers tuition and living expenses. Rufus notes "My experience in NUIP labs has been enlightening, to say the least. I never appreciated how much time, effort, and resources are expended to publish one paper, let alone to develop a life-saving drug. I will walk away from Scott and Sihem's labs with many of the tools and a newfound desire to not only diagnose and treat, but to ask questions that help move medicine forward.
Associate Director Sarah Elizabeth Levitt Evaluates Cultural Competence in Clinical Dietetics Programs
Given the strong intersection between food and culture, clinical dietetics students must acquire strong cross-cultural communication skills and an understanding of nutrition beliefs and needs across the globe. Utilizing the Tool for Assessing Cultural Competence Training from the Association of American Medical Colleges, Sarah Elizabeth Levitt and colleagues are taking a hard look at clinical dietetics curricula. Data obtained will be incorporated into the 2018 ACEND Continuous Improvement Plan for our Coordinated Master’s Program in Nutrition and Dietetics.
Community Engagement
NUIP Researchers Launch the University of Utah Center for Community Nutrition
In 2017, Dr. Julie Metos and colleagues launched the new University of Utah Center for Community Nutrition (UUCCN), an organization committed to improving health through nutrition education, research, and service. They have already reached thousands of middle school and high school students, and dozens of homeless families, through three programs funded by Driving Out Diabetes, a Larry H. Miller Family Foundation Initiative. These programs (Crush Diabetes, Team Thrive, and Food Movement and U) help individuals develop healthy eating habits, incorporate physical activity in their daily lives, and develop a culture of health. A full list of UUCCN programs are pictured below.
Get on the Bus!
On June  4 th , Utah Health introduced the Wellness Bus, which is a key instrument in the fight against diabetes initiated in “Driving Out Diabetes: A Larry H. Miller Family Wellness Initiative.” The Wellness Bus delivers screening services and health coaching to populations most vulnerable to diabetes and its comorbidities. The diesel-powered, 40-foot, custom designed RV has two private counseling rooms, two screening stations, and a waiting/education area. The external design was inspired by community members from Glendale, Utah, and aims to highlight healthy foods and activities, as well as multicultural inclusiveness. The new vehicle will be featured in the Childhood Prevention Programs of Driving Out Diabetes, which are housed in NUIP and administered by the UUCCN.
CMP Student Austin Henderson Pilots Food Prescription Program for Refugees
Refugees face many food barriers when relocating to a new country. CMP student Austin Henderson is looking for new ways to make the transition easier, and thus improve the health, of the 25,000+ refugees residing in Salt Lake County. Austin’s Focused Area of Study project piloted a fruit and vegetable prescription program for refugees new to the area. Under the tutelage of our faculty in the UUCCN and our colleagues at the Department of Health and St. Mark’s Family Medicine practitioners, Austin distributed vouchers to the Sunnyvale farmer’s market, which brings culturally appropriate, locally-grown produce to a neighborhood where many refugees reside. Results from this successful study will greatly inform attempts to scale up the program across the Salt Lake region.
Awards and Recognition

Sihem Boudina
  • COH New Investigator Award (2017)
  • Celebrate U: A showcase of Extraordinary Faculty Achievement (2017)

Shannon Jones
  • Career Services Faculty Recognition Award (2017)

Jim Martin
  • Career Services Faculty Recognition Award (2018)

Julie Metos
  • Distinguished Faculty Service Award, University Utah (2018)
  • Faculty Acknowledgement, University of Utah Athletics, Men’s Basketball Halftime Event (2018)
  • Academy of Health Science Educators, University of Utah, Induction (2017)

Mary Playdon
  • NCI DCEG Fellowship Achievement Award (2017)

Scott Summers
  • Celebrate U: A showcase of Extraordinary Faculty Achievement (2018)

Dave Symons
  • #1 Vascular Biology Manuscript for 2017, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology (ATVB)

Emily Barrett
  • Utah Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Scholarship
  • Anna M. Jacobsen Scholarship

Divya Bharat
  • Finalist in American Society for Nutrition’s “Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Science Award” at Experimental Biology Meeting, Chicago, Apr 22-26, 2017

Leena Bharath
  • The Werner Risau Award from Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology

Allison Depaolo
  • Constance J. Geiger Scholarship

Alyssa Gomez
  • Utah Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Scholarship

Ashleigh Libs
  • Outstanding Dietetics Student in a Coordinated Program
  • Utah Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Scholarship
  • Patsy Jane O’Malley Memorial Scholarship, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation
  • Elizabeth Fuhriman Gardner Award Finalist, University of Utah

Amy Loverin
  • Educational Resource Development Council (ERDC) Scholarship
  • Outstanding Oral Presentation at the Western Society for Pediatric Research Annual Meeting

Michelle Meinking
  • Utah Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Scholarship
  • Patsy Jane O’Malley Memorial Scholarship, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation

Kala Riester
  • Educational Resource Development Council (ERDC) Scholarship
  • Maurine N. Hegsted Scholarship

Alexander Smith
  • American Society for Nutrition Future Leader Award

Trevor Tippetts
  • Metabolism T32 Research Training Grant

Sharee Thompson
  • Utah Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Scholarship
  • Barbara Mathis Prater Scholarship
Spring Awards Banquet
Poster Session
Outstanding Poster Award - Dean's Choice
Ashleigh Libs - "The Implementation of Team-Based Learning into Graduate Level Dietetics Curricula."

Outstanding Poster by a PhD Student
Taylor La Salle - " Blood Pressure and Vascular Function in Hypertensive Individuals: Partitioning Cause and Effect."

Outstanding Poster by a Master's Student
Claire Bagley - " Sex-divergent Impact of DHA Supplementation on the Lung of Postnatal Growth Restricted Rats."
CMP student Alicia Youlton describing her research
Major Award Recipients at the Spring Banquet
The E. Wayne Askew Award for Exemplary Student Research
Jay R. Hydren

The Constance J. Geiger Award for the Outstanding Clinical Dietetics Student
Ashleigh Libs

Teacher of the Year
Lisa Joss-Moore, PhD
Distinguished Alumnus of the Year
Matthew C. Schmidt, MS, RD, CD

Preceptor of the Year
Chelsey Evans, MS, RDN, CD

Volunteer of the Year
Tracii Haynes
Pictured above: Graduating NUIP Students (2018)
NUIP in the Media
A Teenagers Promise
Professor Scott Summers, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology, leads his team of scientists studying the relationship between impaired fat metabolism and development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

What drives Scott Summers passion for finding a cure to diabetes, commitment to excellence and being a scholar? KSL reports! A Teenagers Promise
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