NCRC scientist specializes in fetal disorders

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2011

KANNAPOLIS — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has expanded its focus at the N.C. Research Campus to include fetal alcohol disorders.
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis has hired Dr. Philip May, a research professor and expert in the field of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
May earned his undergraduate degree from Catawba College.
For four decades, May has led research on behavioral issues related to public health. He has conducted extensive research on the epidemiology and risk factors for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, including how they relate to mental health and deviance.
In Kannapolis, May is working on a study designed to reveal the prevalence and specific characteristics of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
The project, funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (part of the National Institutes of Health), includes studies in both the U.S. and South Africa.
In this project, May will combine knowledge gained in the U.S. and South Africa with the Nutrition Research Institute’s advancements in developing an individualized approach to nutrition.
“We have made great progress identifying the demographic and behavioral risk factors for FASD,” May said. “Now we must look at individual risk factors and nutrient deficiencies — genetics and epigenetics may come into play.”
May’s work and experience will introduce a new facet to the research in Kannapolis and highlight the importance of epidemiological work in conjunction with established lab work.
May’s specialty areas also extend to demography and medical sociology, focusing much of his research on community-wide prevention of the disorder.
He was selected to deliver the 2011 University of New Mexico 56th Annual Research Lecture, one of the highest honors that can be awarded to a faculty member. His lecture included suicide and alcohol epidemiology among a number of tribes of American Indians of the western states.
“My lab is the community,” May said. “It is important for behavioral, basic and clinical scientists to work together for a full understanding of the etiology and remediation of most of today’s public health problems.
“Understanding how health problems are intertwined with particular lifestyles and influenced by unique social and cultural conditions advances translation of knowledge to effective intervention, prevention, and cures.”
May holds an appointment in the nutrition department at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and will maintain his role as Extraordinary Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Stellenbosch, Tygerberg, in Cape Town, South Africa.
Dr. Steven Zeisel, director of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, said May’s work will broaden the institute’s reach in the nutrition science field.