Each year, award partners make it possible for us to recognize and support the academic pursuits of nutrition graduate students through ASN Predoctoral Fellowships. These competitive fellowships require submission of an extensive research proposal and application. The recipient of the 2019  Pfizer Predoctoral Fellowship is May Cheung from Drexel University. May’s research project is titled “The Influence of Combined Magnesium and Vitamin D Supplementation on Cardiometabolic Health Indices: A Double-Blinded Randomized Controlled Trial.” We are delighted that Pfizer could support her efforts!

ASN: How did you first get involved in nutrition science and research?

May Cheung: Before I was involved in nutrition sciences research, I was a health enthusiast, a foodie, and a science nerd. I am always mindful of what I put in my body and how it may affect my health. My interest in nutrition science grew when I worked for Whole Foods. I was faced with thousands of different products every day; I heard both customers and manufacturers making many health claims on certain foods/products. I asked myself: “Is it true? And if so, how does it work?” I was determined to find answers. It was then I knew that nutrition sciences research was a path I wanted to pursue.

I worked as a laboratory assistant when I was an undergraduate student, which is when I was first exposed to different types of laboratory techniques for human samples. I was fascinated by research techniques that seemed boring to my friends. After I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, I started working various unsatisfying, minimum-wage jobs. I often thought about what I really wanted to do with my life. The research project I worked on as an undergraduate student planted the seed in my mind and I decided that I needed to pursue it. Exposing undergraduate students to research is very important–a person never knows what type of inspiration this may lead to.  

Tell us about your current position and the research activities in which you are involved.

I am currently a Teaching Assistant and a Research Assistant, working with Dr. Deeptha Sukumar, in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University. I have been in Dr. Sukumar’s Research Laboratory for four years. Our Laboratory focuses on studying the interplay between bone and energy metabolism, particularly how bone regulating hormones and nutrients can affect obesity and cardiometabolic health. Within the Sukumar Laboratory, I have worked on several human clinical studies, including: Magnesium, Systemic Inflammation and Body Composition, Vitamin D and Antiepileptic Drugs, and on South Asian Indian, Vitamin D and Metabolic Syndrome.

I am currently focusing on my dissertation project, The Effects of a Combined Magnesium and Vitamin D Supplement on Systemic Inflammation, Blood Pressure and Lipid Profile. Numerous clinical trials published in the past several years have indicated that vitamin D replenishment therapy in individuals who are deficient may not improve cardiometabolic health, and yet there is still a positive association between serum 25-dihydroxyvitamin D concentrations and cardiovascular events. One theory is that vitamin D may not be metabolized properly if presented in a magnesium-deficient milieu, because magnesium is a cofactor for vitamin D activation and transportation. My dissertation focuses on the effect of adding magnesium in a vitamin D supplementation regimen. I am evaluating whether a combined magnesium and vitamin D treatment may lower cardiovascular disease risk in individuals living with overweight and obesity. 

Is there any specific aspect of your research that you are personally passionate about?

I am fascinated about micronutrients, in general. Specifically, I am passionate how micronutrients can affect hormones and metabolism. It is important to understand how micronutrients, both from food sources and supplements, can affect an individual’s health.   

I am also very passionate about how the food system can affect the consumption of micronutrients, particularly with climate change. The issue of how climate change may affect our food system is an issue that requires immediate attention.

What aspects of ASN membership have you found most useful professionally?

I enjoy the ASN’s Student Interest Group, particularly the Graduate Student Breakfast at ASN’s annual meeting. It is great to meet other students and share our successes and challenges in research.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell ASN members, especially students?

Keep applying for fellowships! As a student myself, I understand how intimidating it can be; it is important to view every application submission as a valuable learning experience and not get discouraged. Even when I am not awarded, I genuinely enjoy receiving feedback. The feedback is valuable to what I need to do moving forward in my research.