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Center Leadership


Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Harvard


The major objectives of the Center follow from the following five broad goals.

1. To promote research in basic areas relevant to clinical nutritional science.

While other areas of investigation are also likely to provide useful insights in determining nutritional needs in health and disease, the Center will specifically promote efforts directed at the further understanding of nutrient requirements at the cellular level and the role of nutrients in molecular functions, particularly as it pertains to the developing gastrointestinal tract, the prevention of arteriosclerotic heart disease and glucose, protein and amino acid metabolism, obesity, and nutrients in stress states.

Members of the Center include investigators in all areas of basic science which are deemed essential to provide a foundation for further progress in the study of clinical nutrition research issues. Some specific basic areas that should be important in facilitating more focused study of nutrition are:

  1. The role of nutrients and natural growth factors (in human milk) on enterocyte differentiation and cellular function and in gene regulation.
  2. Receptor expression and signal transduction in response to ligands controlling nutrient uptake and metabolism.
  3. Cellular and molecular mechanisms of degenerative changes due to toxic or pathologic nutrient intake.
  4. Nutrition and gut immune function.
  5. Insulin receptor expression and glucose utilization.
  6. Molecular mechanisms of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
  7. Liver regeneration and intrauterine carbohydrate storage.
  8. Molecular mechanisms of satiety.

The potential for the Center to contribute to each of these areas is underscored by a brief summary of some of the accomplishments of selected center members: cloning of the "scavenger" macrophage receptor for lipoproteins on the macrophage; role of nutrients in the bacterial colonization of the gut; mechanism of insulin responsiveness at the receptor/cellular level; defining the intraluminal nutritional conditions for class II antigen expression on enterocytes and it’s role in antigen presentation to mucosal lymphocytes; the use of mass spectrometry and NMR technology to define intracellular mechanisms for nutrient handling.

2. To promote the study of Clinical Nutrition within the HMS, HSPH and Tufts communities

Despite the major contributions to the field of clinical nutrition by such local scientists as Nevin Scrimshaw, M.D., Ph.D. and Hamish Munro, Ph.D. at MIT and Fred Stare, M.D., Ph.D. and Dr. Mark Hegsted, Ph.D. at the Harvard School of Public Health, new approaches to this discipline are necessary before we can answer fundamental clinical nutrition questions such as what are nutrient requirements at various stages of life and how are the requirements altered during stages of disease? To do this, the NORC has developed new approaches to answering clinical nutrition questions. Part of this objective to develop, with the input of Center Investigators, new in vivo and in vitro models to answer clinical nutrition questions. As appreciated by investigators and clinicians alike, these include: 

  1. Use of mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance technology to determine the cellular and organ system handling of specific nutrients including trace elements.
  2. Development of/and use of existent human cell lines to define the role of nutrients in membrane composition and turnover, in signal transduction in response to external stimuli, and in cellular proliferation and differentiation.
  3. The development of animal models to study nutrition deficiency states including obesity and the adverse role of nutrients in degenerative/malignant transformation conditions.

Clearly, these objectives depend on the efforts of investigators in many institutions, demanding as they will a research base beyond that of any single center. However, the center serves to encourage and support a broad range of studies directly relevant to nutrition research (defining the role of specific nutrients in optimum growth) but more importantly, the center serves as a catalyst to promote the extension of basic science insights in areas of strength identified in Objective 1.

3. To promote interactions among scientists exploring diverse fields which share relevance to clinical nutrition

Inherent in the pursuit of Objective 1 and Objective 2 is the further development of collaborative interactions among center investigators. The scientific cores and enrichment programs of the center bring together investigators whose research efforts have fundamental relevance to clinical nutrition research with colleagues who bring an appreciation for the importance of understanding of nutrition needs and deficiencies, as well as an understanding of the critical issues essential for further progress.

4. To attract basic investigators to the study nutrition

A relative insufficiency in the number of focused investigators has been increasingly recognized to be an ongoing important limitation in our progress to understand Clinical Nutrition. Conversely, many of the scientifically challenging features of nutrition research have gone unrecognized by the most basic investigators. Inherent to the organization of the scientific cores and research enrichment program of the Center is the recruitment of both basic and clinical scientists to explore areas of needed investigation.

5. To promote an environment and mechanism to develop new investigators focused on clinical nutrition research

In concert with Objective 4, an important goal is to facilitate the research career development of new investigators focused on nutrition research. The opportunities available through the collaborative network of basic investigators established by the Center and access to Core and pilot/feasibility support facilitate the training of committed young investigators with the most powerful research approaches as an adjunct to funded training programs including a Nutrition Training Grant at HSPH.

The resources provided by the scientific cores are helpful in support of nutrition-related research at the Center as well as elsewhere. The Center provides an integrated research environment that establishes a framework for extending laboratory findings to explore their corresponding relevance in applied nutrition. A major new initiative of this application is to utilize the considerable resources at MGH and CH to facilitate training of young investigators in clinical research including facilitating application for NIH-funded Advanced Clinical Research Investigator Awards (K-23) through pilot feasibility funding, Core utilization, and CRC protocol support.

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Updated 1/25/2008