Texas Tech University

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Receives Two-Year Grant from the USDA

Amanda Bowman

April 23, 2018

Mandana Pahlavani will be able to continue her work with obesity research.

Mandana Pahlavani
Mandana Pahlavani

Mandana Pahlavani, a postdoctoral research fellow in Texas Tech University's Department of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Human Sciences, was awarded a two-year, $165,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture's (NIFA) Education and Literacy Initiative (ELI).

“I am so excited to receive this grant,” Pahlavani said. “I actually applied for three grants, but the USDA grant was the first one I submitted, so getting awarded on my first try with this agency was very exciting.”

Pahlavani, who received her doctorate in nutritional sciences in 2017 through Texas Tech's Graduate School as an international student, will continue to advance the research she started as a doctoral student. In 2017, her doctoral dissertation placed first in the Graduate School's Outstanding Thesis and Dissertation awards.

“The focus of this fellowship is dissecting the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in diet-induced obesity,” Pahlavani said. “My research has previously focused on brown fat (good fat) activation by fish oil, but this new fellowship is related to the ability of fish oil to reduce white fat (considered ‘bad fat') and its inflammation. It's like the same dietary intervention, but a different research path.”

Pahlavani will use animal models and genetic, cellular and molecular tools to address her research questions. Preethi Gunaratne, an associate professor in the University of Houston's (UH) Department of Biology and Biochemistry and director of UH's Seq-N-Edit Core facility, also is a collaborator in Pahlavani's project.

Mark Sheridan, vice provost for graduate and postdoctoral affairs and dean of the Graduate School, is thrilled with the work Pahlavani has done and will continue to do.

“USDA NIFA postdoctoral fellowships are extremely competitive,” Sheridan said. “This award is a recognition of the quality and importance of Mandana's work, which will have direct and lasting impacts on human health. I am particularly pleased that Mandana's education and training as a graduate student at Texas Tech laid the groundwork for this project and in preparing her for a career in human nutrition research.”

Pahlavani with Moussa and colleagues

Pahlavani said her mentor, Naïma Moustaïd-Moussa, a professor in nutritional sciences and the director of Texas Tech's interdisciplinary Obesity Research Cluster, was instrumental in giving her the support she needed to apply for the grant.

“Naïma has been very supportive,” Pahlavani said. “I think the mentor is one of the key points in getting the grant, and I couldn't have a better mentor than Naïma. She is very supportive and has a lot of experience about getting the grant and writing research papers. She understands her students and their situations, especially international students.”

Moustaïd-Moussa, who earned her doctorate from the Pierre and Marie Curie University of Paris, France, and her postdoctoral training at Harvard University's Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is familiar with the needs of international students and recognizes the hard work it took for Pahlavani to receive this grant.

“In addition to advancing her research, Mandana made big progress both in her oral and written communication skills,” Moustaïd-Moussa said. “She had a clear goal for her training and a very good project. She worked hard on it. She published her work and has been recognized by so many. I'm very proud of her.”

Both Pahlavani and Moustaïd-Moussa emphasize the student-mentor relationship is vital to the success of their work. Mitzi Lauderdale, associate dean for student services in the College of Human Sciences, said Pahlavani and Moustaïd-Moussa's work is the perfect example of that relationship.

“The College of Human Sciences is dedicated to providing mentorship like we have seen with Naïma in Mandana's work,” Lauderdale said. “Mandana's dedication provides a wonderful example to our students that Texas Tech offers many pathways to discover the endless possibilities in pursuing their research. Both of these women embody the mission of our college, to improve and enhance the human condition, and we are grateful they are a part of the College of Human Sciences.”

Pahlavani also stresses the support she received from her colleagues Latha Ramalingam and Iurii (Yuri) Koboziev, who are both research assistant professors in nutritional sciences, and from Debra Reed, a distinguished Helen DeVitt Jones professor and graduate adviser in the Department of Nutritional Sciences.

Pahlavani hopes the work she accomplishes with this grant will help her become a professor in the near future.

“I'm the primary investigator for this fellowship, and this is very important for me to develop my independent research,” she said. “My future plan is to get an academic position. I don't know what the future holds, but I'd love to work here at Texas Tech.”