Plants for Human Health welcomes new faculty member

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 26, 2016

KANNAPOLIS – Dr. Colin Kay recently joined N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. An associate professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, Kay’s research interest lies in understanding the relationships between diet and chronic diseases, in particular, cardio-metabolic diseases and disorders such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance. To achieve this understanding, he looks at the metabolic transformation of phytochemicals, or plant compounds, and the impact this has on the biological activity of foods people eat, particularly berries.

Kay says that he was initially interested in the position at the institute because, “it offers the complete package.” He says, “There are tremendous resources and infrastructure available, and the research campus offers significant potential for collaboration with industry partners, including Dole, and other North Carolina universities.”

Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the institute, says Kay is “a rising star in the whole area of phytoactive compounds and what happens in the human body after they are consumed. He’s been able to shed some light on the transport, kinetics, and fate of biologically active anthocyanins and other flavonoids after an enriched functional food – for example, a fruit like a blueberry or a grape – is eaten by a human being. We look forward to a wealth of ‘fruitful’ collaborations.”

The institute’s mission is to enhance the health-protective value of food crops to increase the economic impact to North Carolina agriculture and improve global human health. Kay’s research explores what happens to plant compounds (phytochemicals) during the process of digestion and metabolism. Understanding the fundamentals of phytochemical metabolism and the impact this has on the biological activity of foods will ultimately allow individuals to make informed decisions regarding their diet and the associated implications of dietary change. Kay hopes to establish metabolic fingerprints as a means to identify personalized preventative strategies against chronic disease; and in the long term, hopes that his research will lead to the realization that foods and/or phytochemical metabolites can act as effective prevention and treatment strategies for disease risk reduction.

Kay earned his Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, in 2004. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Penn State University prior to taking a position at Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom in 2007. He comes to the institute from the University of East Anglia with 33 peer-reviewed publications, and more than $8 million in career research funding.

The Plants for Human Health Institute now includes seven lead research faculty, with three more slated to start this summer in the areas of regenerative medicine and translational nutrition. The institute employs 50 faculty and staff, including postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and Cooperative Extension associates. Kay will be hiring a research assistant and securing two PhD students in the next year.