KANNAPOLIS — With a new $19.2 million grant, a consortium of researchers at NC Research Campus will use cutting-edge analytical techniques to examine how and why people’s bodies respond to different diets.
The $19.2 million grant is for five years and primarily targets researchers at the Kannapolis campus. The grant is part of a larger $170 million pot awarded by the National Institutes of Health. A major goal, lead researcher Susan Jenkins Sumner said, will be to develop ideas for how to personalize nutrition. The research will help in the development of algorithms on eating and dietary habits, she said.
The dollar amount is important, but it’s not what Sumner is most excited about.
“That’s enough money to bring us all together,” she said.
Study participants will be given meal challenges or eat different types of diets — fast food is probably not an option — and the 12 researchers working on the Sumner-led study will collect saliva or urine samples. to explore questions such as why people’s bodies react differently. Sumner will rely on people who live in or near Kannapolis, who could be anywhere from China Grove to Mt. Pleasant.
“My family has come from Stanly, Rowan, Montgomery, and Cabarrus counties in North Carolina for many generations, so I am especially excited about the opportunity for my own lab and the NRI to serve and engage our community in ways that help improve nutrition for future generations in North Carolina,” Sumner said. “We know that individuals respond differently to food intake, and our center will use cutting-edge technologies to reveal new biomarkers of food intake and determine the links between an individual’s response to food intake and health.”
Officially, the grant will establish the Metabolomics and Clinical Assays Center. Like Sumner, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Nutrition Research Institute, most of the people working on the project will be from UNC. There will also be researchers from NC State University, Duke University and UNC Charlotte. The award illustrates the value of collaboration between public and private universities in North Carolina, according to a press release.
“We are really excited to receive this important award because it takes a huge effort from researchers at many universities in North Carolina to complete the clinical trials. That’s why price is so important,” Sumner said.
Sumner said the grant is exactly what the NC Research Campus was created for — to bring together leading researchers from North Carolina universities to work on nutrition research.
In addition to the grant for Sumner’s team, Elizabeth Mayer-Davis of UNC-Chapel Hill also received a grant as part of the $170 million. The Mayer-Davis grant will fund the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Clinical Center.
Twelve other clinics and centers across the country have also received funding as part of the $170 million. The larger effort — The Nutrition for Precision Health powered by the All of Us research program — will recruit a diverse group of 10,000 people to help inform more personalized nutritional recommendations, according to a press release.
In addition to Sumner, the full list of researchers participating in the Kannapolis-based project includes:
• Yuanyuan Li, Assistant Professor, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, NC Research Campus
• Blake Rushing, Assistant Professor, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, NC Research Campus
• Katie Meyer, Assistant Professor, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, NC Research Campus
• Susan McRitchie, Program Manager, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, NC Research Campus
• Steven Cotten, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UNC, and Director of Clinical Trials, McLendon Laboratory, UNC-Chapel Hill
• Martin Kohlmeier, Professor, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, NC Research Campus
• Colin Kay, Professor, Plants for Human Health Institute, NC State University, NC Research Campus
• Christopher Newgard, Professor and Director, Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center and Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, Duke University Medical Center
• Olga Ilkayeva, Director, Central Metabolomics Laboratory, Duke Institute for Molecular Physiology, Duke University Medical Center
• Aleksandr Smirnov, Assistant Professor, College of Computing and Informatics, UNC Charlotte, NC Research Campus
• Xiuxia Du, Professor, College of Computing and Informatics, UNC Charlotte, NC Research Campus