The mechanisms, risk, assessment and treatment of disease and disability are examined. Research focuses on understanding the environmental, behavioral, genetic and physiological components essential to prevention, management and treatment. Novel methodologies inform assessment and intervention from the cellular to the population level.


Obesity is one of the most urgent public health challenges in the U.S. The problem and its possible solutions are complex. One approach is to better understand how the body absorbs dietary fat, the most energy-dense nutrient consumed. In addition, dietary fat contributes to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Kimberly Buhman, associate professor in NUTRITION SCIENCE, has uncovered an important role of lipid droplets in the absorption of dietary fat in the intestine. Long thought to be inert storage vesicles, lipid droplets are now recognized as cellular organelles with important and diverse functions. “Understanding how diet, genetics and drugs influence lipid droplet metabolism in the process of dietary fat absorption may lead to targeted strategies for treating obesity, cardiovascular disease and other metabolic diseases,” Buhman says.


People with Parkinson’s disease experience difficulty communicating due to a quiet voice and mumbled speech. Jessica Huber, professor in SPEECH, LANGUAGE, AND HEARING SCIENCES, teamed with biomedical engineers to create a device that would help these patients talk more loudly and clearly in real-world conversations. Speech Vive is a wireless, behind-their device that provides a stream of noise (similar to background chatter at a party) while the person wearing the device is speaking, prompting the wearer to naturally talk louder and more clearly. Thanks to the efforts of Huber and her collaborators, the Speech Vive device is currently in production. “It is extremely important that we, as researchers, translate our findings into practice, whether that is through for-profit or nonprofit commercialization,” Huber says.


Bariatric surgery has become a popular weight loss option, with more than 200,000 surgeries performed in the U.S. in 2011. Nana Gletsu Miller, assistant professor in NUTRITION SCIENCE, studies the impact of weight-loss surgery on overall health. Bariatric patients are prone to nutritional deficiencies, especially iron, vitamin D, some B vitamins, calcium, zinc and copper. Fatigue, anemia, hair loss and neurological problems can result. “Bariatric patients develop nutritional problems we haven’t seen in this country in decades,” she says. “Our research on this population can be applied to other populations at risk, since poor nutrition occurs in many parts of the world.” Gletsu Miller is working to help post-surgical patients maintain their weight loss over the long term while encouraging better nutritional health.

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