$19.2 million grant will fund new nutrition research in Kannapolis

Published 3:50 pm Saturday, January 29, 2022

KANNAPOLIS — With a newly awarded $19.2 million grant, a consortium of researchers at the N.C. 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 involves researchers at the Kannapolis campus. The grant is part of a larger pot of $170 million awarded by the National Institutes of Health. A major goal, said lead researcher Susan Jenkins Sumner, will be to develop insights into how to personalize nutrition. The research will aid in the development of algorithms about food and dietary patterns, she said.

The dollar amount is large, but that’s not what Sumner is more excited about.

“It’s enough money to bring us all together,” she said.

Study participants will receive meal challenges or consume different kinds of diets — fast food isn’t likely to be an option — and the 12 researchers working on the study led by Sumner will collect saliva or urine samples to explore questions such as why people’s bodies respond differently. Sumner will draw on people who live in or near Kannapolis, which could be anywhere from China Grove to Mt. Pleasant.

“My family comes from the Stanly, Rowan, Montgomery, and Cabarrus counties of North Carolina for many generations, so I am particularly excited about the opportunity for my own laboratory and the NRI to serve and engage our community in ways that will help to improve nutrition for future generations in North Carolina,” Sumner said. “We know that individuals respond differently to dietary intake, and our center will use advanced technologies to reveal new biomarkers of dietary intake and determine links between an individual’s response to dietary intake and health.”

Officially, the grant will create the Metabolomics and Clinical Assays Center. Like Sumner, a professor for the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute, most of those working on the project will be from UNC. There also will be researchers from N.C. State University, Duke University and UNC Charlotte. The award exemplifies the value of collaboration across public and private universities within North Carolina, a news release said.

“We’re really excited about receiving this significant award because it takes a huge effort from investigators of many of the North Carolina universities to perform the clinical assays. That’s why the award is so big,” Sumner said.

Sumner said the grant is exactly what the N.C. Research Campus was formed to do — to bring leading investigators from North Carolina universities together to work on nutrition research.

In addition to the grant for Sumner’s team, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Elizabeth Mayer-Davis also received a grant as part of the $170 million. Mayer-Davis’ grant will fund the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Clinical Center.

Another 12 clinics and centers across the country 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 pool of 10,000 people to help inform more personalized nutrition recommendations, a news release said.

In addition to Sumner, the full list of researchers helping with the Kannapolis-based project include:

• Yuanyuan Li, assistant professor, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, N.C. Research Campus
• Blake Rushing, assistant professor, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, N.C. Research Campus
• Katie Meyer, assistant professor, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, N.C. Research Campus
• Susan McRitchie, program manager, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, N.C. Research Campus
• Steven Cotten, PhD, associate professor, UNC Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and director of clinical assays, McLendon Laboratory, UNC-Chapel Hill
• Martin Kohlmeier, professor, UNC Nutrition Research Institute, N.C. Research Campus
• Colin Kay, professor, Plants for Human Health Institute, NC State University, N.C. 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, Duke Molecular Physiology Institute Metabolomics Core Laboratory, Duke University Medical Center
• Aleksandr Smirnov, assistant professor, College of Computing and Informatics, UNC Charlotte, N.C. Research Campus
• Xiuxia Du, professor, College of Computing and Informatics, UNC Charlotte, N.C. Research Campus