Texas Tech University

Nutrition Specialists Share Research at Industry-Leading Conference

Glenys Young

June 14, 2018


More than 30 individuals presented to the American Society of Nutrition this week.

For the second time in less than three months, a group from Texas Tech University has invaded Boston.

This time, instead of the Red Raider basketball team – which became the first in program history to advance to the Elite Eight back in March – it's a delegation from the Department of Nutritional Sciences. And for this group of researchers that studies food, what better place is there to be than Beantown?

The College of Human Sciences, which houses the department, sent 31 of its best and brightest for the American Society of Nutrition (ASN) Conference this week. ASN is the leading professional organization in nutrition science and publishes The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Advances in Nutrition and The Journal of Nutrition, as well as its new open-access journal, Current Developments in Nutrition.


In short, this conference is the place to be for anyone who's anyone in nutrition, and that makes it an ideal place for Texas Tech students and researchers to show off their work. This year's conference, Nutrition 2018, was the first scientific meeting of ASN, which until now was held in conjunction with other experimental biology societies.

In addition to the 31 people giving nearly 50 presentations, four Texas Tech individuals received special honors.

Conference organizers and faculty reviewers selected nine finalists from the 634 entries submitted nationally and worldwide for the ASN Nutritional Sciences Council's 2018 Graduate Student Research Awards Competition. Of those nine, two are from Texas Tech: master's student Zahra Feizy and doctoral candidate Yujiao Zu. The nine finalists presented their research as an e-poster, and one winner was selected in each of three categories: basic science, clinical research and population research. Zu won the basic category along with a $500 travel grant and a $100 award, placing her as the top graduate student in the nation within this ASN competition. Zu also won the North America Chinese Society for Nutrition travel award, based on authorship, scientific merit and relevance, and presentation. She received $300 and was recognized during the China International Forum.

For the second straight year, assistant professor Dr. John Dawson received a Top Reviewer Award from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a recognition based on the quality, number and timeliness of the manuscript reviews he completed. In 2016, Dawson was among the top 1 percent of all the journal's ad hoc reviewers. Separately, Dawson gave an invited presentation to the conference about multiple comparisons adjustments.


Dr. Chanaka Kahathuduwa, a research assistant professor in the Department of Human Development & Family Studies, won the 2017 David Kritchevsky Graduate Student Award for a research manuscript published in the journal Nutrition Research. Many highly qualified student researchers from around the world were nominated by their advisers for the eighth annual award, which recognizes achievement in nutrition writing and research. Kahathuduwa received $1,000 and was recognized during the Nutrition Research board meeting at the conference.

Below are some of the presentations from Texas Tech students and faculty at the conference:

Behavioral Medicine and Translational Research (BMTR) Laboratory

The BMTR Laboratory engages in clinical and translational research in nutrition, obesity and other metabolic diseases. It is led by associate professor Dr. Martin Binks, director of the Nutrition & Metabolic Health Initiative.


Research led by doctoral candidate Shao Hua Chin shows that meal replacement shakes may be a useful treatment option for individuals struggling with hunger while dieting to lose weight. During a three-week weight loss intervention for two groups – one eating a lower-calorie diet including meal replacement shakes and one eating a lower-calorie diet of typical food – average self-reported hunger ratings for all participants decreased over time, and the group given meal replacement shakes had greater hunger rating decreases than those eating typical food. These results show that meal replacement shakes may decrease feelings of hunger more than typical food-based calorie restriction.

A presentation by undergraduate research assistant Hannah Olvera showed that, at least for some people, one important factor in weight loss is the belief that one's health depends on it. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Health Related Quality of Life questionnaire that was measured before a three-week weight loss intervention, Olvera showed that a higher number of participants' self-reported “unhealthy days” prior to treatment translated into more body fat lost. This could mean people who felt worse in terms of health did better once they decided to take action to lose weight compared with those who reported fewer negative health impacts of their weight prior to treatment.

Sudden, unintentional weight gain or loss is one known symptom of depression. Master's student Wei-Lin Huang and doctoral student William Quarles presented their research delving deeper into the connection between depression and changes in fat mass. After getting participants' baseline scores on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), a short questionnaire used to screen for anxiety and depression, the pair conducted a three-week weight loss intervention. Individuals with a high HADS-Depression score were more likely than individuals with low HADS-Depression scores to eat in various situations related to the proximity/availability of food and typically lost less fat mass during the weight loss intervention.


In a separate analysis, Huang and Quarles studied how variables might predict which individuals would have more activity limitations related to weight. This analysis determined that HADS-Anxiety and body fat percentage predicted the likelihood of an individual reporting activity limitations due to obesity. Together, these findings suggest that HADS is a particularly useful tool for screening before undergoing a weight-loss trial to best understand how anxiety and depression will affect a patient and that this utility may be further enhanced if used in combination with other self-report measures involving the relationship with food.

Separately, Huang used the Yale Food Addictions Scale (YFAS), which assesses eating-related behaviors and is a diagnostic tool for the theoretical construct of “food addiction.” He measured participants' initial fat mass and YFAS scores, and after a three-week weight loss trial, the number of diagnostic symptoms related to food addiction present in subjects decreased. These results suggest YFAS may be valuable in predicting early response to treatment in individuals susceptible to consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods, and also that calorie restriction may be a useful treatment option for individuals struggling with behaviors classified as symptoms of food addiction.


Quarles sought to better understand the relationships among variables often collected in clinical weight management settings, specifically, which might be related to people's responses to the food environment. His findings suggest that no specific clinical variables such as age, body fat, food cravings, hunger or psychological relationship with food are of value in understanding reactions to visual food cues for individuals with obesity. The results suggest responses to the visual food environment may not be substantively influenced by factors typically thought to influence behavioral food cue reactivity.

Master's student Sharmin Akter and undergraduate research assistant Macy Moseley found that in individuals with obesity, conscious dietary restraint was associated with cravings for high-fat food; susceptibility to impulsive overeating in certain situations was associated with overall food cravings, and specifically, cravings for sweets; and susceptibility to hunger was associated with overall cravings, cravings for sweets and cravings for fast food.

Nutrigenomics, Inflammation and Obesity Research (NIOR) Laboratory

The NIOR Laboratory is led by Dr. Naima Moustaid-Moussa, who also directs the Obesity Research Cluster. NIOR research primarily focuses on understanding the role and endocrine function of adipose tissue and the regulation of other metabolic tissues, such as the liver, in obesity-related metabolic diseases by bioactive food components, such as fish oil, vitamin E and tart cherry anthocyanins. This research is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Heart Association.

Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Mandana Pahlavani, a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Fellow, gave two presentations at the conference dealing with fish oil. One, the work proposed for her fellowship award, focused on identifying gene networks that mediate the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil, presented during the USDA Project Directors meeting. The other was Moustaid-Moussa's research funded by the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which demonstrates that fish oil supplementation during diet-induced obesity activates a brown fat thermogenic program and contributed to reduced obesity. Pahlavani's continued research investigates whether these effects are dependent on a specialized protein in brown fat, and this novel research may help identify brown fat as a nutritional and therapeutic target in obesity.

Dr. Iurii (Yuri) Koboziev, a research assistant professor, gave an invited presentation in the immunometabolism and obesity symposium about the interrelationship between bioactive food components and gut bacteria in high-fat diet-induced obesity.

Dr. Latha Ramalingam, another research assistant professor, presented findings on the beneficial effects of delta tocotrienol, a vitamin E isomer, in obesity-associated inflammation and triglyceride storage in fat and liver tissues. This research was conducted by graduate student London Allen as part of a collaboration with Leslie Shen at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC).

Doctoral candidate Kembra Albracht, a USDA NIFA Fellow, demonstrated the triglyceride-lowering and inflammation-reducing effects of fish oil leading to reversing fatty liver in mice with diet-induced obesity.

Doctoral candidate Kalhara Menikdiwela presented his research on the protective effects of fish oil in maternal obesity, demonstrating that supplementation of fish oil during pregnancy and in the offspring reduced obesity-related metabolic dysfunctions later in life.

Doctoral student Fahmida Rasha demonstrated that the fat cell-derived hormone angiotensin II increases breast cancer cell inflammation and metabolism, and these effects can be reversed by antihypertensive drugs.

Doctoral candidate Shasika Udahawatte presented her work, which demonstrated significant benefits of tart cherry anthocyanins. These effects are mediated by the reduction of inflammation in fat tissue in both genetically obese rats as well as cultured adipocytes.

Emily Miller, a Pi2 Scholar, Undergraduate Research Scholar and freshman in the Honors College, shared her studies on the beneficial effects of fish oil through activating brown fat energy metabolism in female mice with diet-induced obesity.

Nutrition and Nanomedicine Laboratory

The Nutrition and Nanomedicine Laboratory, led by Dr. Shu Wang, researches the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis and obesity through cutting-edge nanotechnology.

Obesity is a major public health problem in the United States, one that current lifestyles and pharmacotherapy cannot treat efficiently. The Nutrition and Nanomedicine Laboratory has nanoparticles to deliver resveratrol, a natural phenol, directly to adipose stromal cells for combating obesity. This delivery induces the formation of brown-like adipocytes, which burn fat and energy, resulting in fat and weight loss. Yujiao Zu, the doctoral candidate who won the Graduate Student Research Awards Competition, confirmed the target specificity and compelling anti-obesity activity in an animal model. This innovative target delivery may lead to a breakthrough in fighting obesity. Zu also was selected for the ASN's Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Poster Competition.

Research assistant professor Dr. Lei Hao demonstrated the beneficial anti-obesity and anti-diabetes effects of mirabegron, an FDA-approved drug for overactive bladder.

Doctoral student Jie Liu presented that T0901317-loaded nanoparticles reduced lipid deposition in the artery wall for treating atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States.

Doctoral student Mehrnaz Abbasi presented her work, which uses nanoparticles to deliver epigallocatechin gallate, a green tea catechin, into atherosclerotic plaque for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis.

The long-term goal of this research is to deliver drugs or bioactive compounds to disease cells and tissues using safe nanoparticles to enhance therapeutic efficacy and decrease side effects. This research has been funded by the NIH, the Texas Tech Office of the Vice President for Research, the Presidents' Collaborative Research Initiative and the College of Human Sciences.

Obesity and Metabolic Health Laboratory

One of the main research topics in the Obesity and Metabolic Health Laboratory, led by Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar, is how to deliver a specific protein that could help people better manage diabetes.

Master's student Zahra Feizy, the finalist in the Graduate Student Research Awards Competition, presented her work showing how the protein E4orf1 can improve glucose levels in mice cells. This research shows that, at least in concept, there is potential for E4orf1 to work in humans as well. For her work, Feizy won the Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Poster Competition during the conference.

Type 2 diabetes is common in older people and needs chronic treatment. As part of her master's thesis, Zahra Mostofinejad showed that, long term, feeding a high-fat diet to older mice expressing E4orf1 led to improvement in their glycemic control. Additionally, this improvement protected the mice's livers from fat accumulation and inflammation. These observations highlight the potential of E4orf1 as an anti-diabetic agent for chronic treatment of middle-aged and older individuals.

A growing body of research suggests there's a powerful connection between diet and the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease via similar pathways to those that cause Type 2 diabetes. No effective treatments are currently available for the prevention or cure of Alzheimer's disease, but controlling or preventing Type 2 diabetes might be an approach to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

A collaborative proof-of-concept study by assistant professor Dr. Vijay Hegde; postdoctoral research associate Dr. Swetha Peddibhotla; Dhurandhar, professor and chairman of nutritional sciences; and the Garrison Institute on Aging at the TTUHSC shows that, in mice predisposed to impaired glycemic control and Alzheimer's disease, being infected with human adenovirus 36 improved their glycemic control and prevented cognitive decline. The study is funded by the Presidents' Collaborative Research Initiative. Additional and long-term research is needed to determine if Ad36-based approaches may help to improve the prognosis of Alzheimer's disease in humans.