The nutrition community is made up of individuals with diverse experiences, perspectives, and ideas. This diversity is the fundamental strength of our professional society. Through this member spotlight series, we celebrate our diversity and the vast achievements made by our members in the field.

Meet ASN Member, Dr. Barbara Gower. Dr. Gower has been an ASN member for over 20 years is currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Her focus lies in clinical investigation, particularly in understanding health disparities in obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as the realm of “food as medicine” and “precision nutrition.” Her research reveals the significant impact of diet composition on metabolic health, emphasizing the role of hormones like insulin and glucagon.

Dr. Gower is chairing the session Hepatic Ketone Production as the Governing Factor in Determining Fatty Liver and Type 2 Diabetes at NUTRITION 2024 later this year. In the following membership spotlight, learn more about Dr. Gower, her work and the her excitement for NUTRITION 2024.

Barbara Gower, PhD
Professor and Chair
Department of Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Please tell us about your interests in and out of the lab.

Dr. Barbara Gower: I have worked at UAB for 25 years, primarily as a clinical investigator.  My research spans two major areas:  the first is understanding the physiological basis for health disparities in obesity and type 2 diabetes, and the second could be categorized both as “food as medicine” and “precision nutrition.”

 I discovered that diet composition has profound effects on metabolic health independent of weight loss or energy balance.  Just changing the glycemic load of the diet could change body composition, particularly the deposition or depletion of ectopic and visceral fat.  I believe that the effects of diet are mediated by hormones, particularly insulin and glucagon.  By shifting the ratio of insulin to glucagon, a low glycemic diet can alter fuel partitioning.  It is critical to understand that food is more than just fuel; what you eat affects the endocrine system in ways that affect how that food is used.  

The results from my research suggest that health disparities have physiologic underpinnings that can be revealed in part by looking at the endocrine response to food intake.  The second piece of that puzzle is examining genetic variation in genes that affect fuel metabolism.  Ultimately, health disparities can be addressed by prescribing specific diets based on metabolic phenotype.  Or put differently, it is not “one size fits all” when it comes to nutrition recommendations. Your optimal diet depends on your metabolic and endocrine “wiring.”

You’re chairing a session at NUTRITION 2024.  Tell us about the topic and why it is important to our field.

The key to good metabolic health is keeping the liver happy.  The liver integrates information from the periphery – information about fuel availability and the types of fuel in the circulation – and responds to hormones that regulate fuel partitioning.  Fuel partitioning is what you do with the carbon moieties derived from food ingestion or mobilized from energy stores:  do you burn them for energy?   Or store them?  And which pathways do you use for fuel metabolism?  These signaling mechanisms and processes evolved over evolutionary time to keep us going regardless of food availability.  We were able to “switch gears” and survive on stored fuel during times of food scarcity, and we were able to efficiently store excess fuel during times of energy surplus.  However, in today’s world of continuous excess of food availability, these carefully orchestrated systems, which are governed by the liver, can go awry, and the end results are type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic metabolic diseases.

Exiting new research has given us a “window” into hepatic metabolism and has identified the specific processes involved in metabolic health.  By using stable isotope tracer technology, the symposium speakers will illustrate how they have measured flux through specific pathways, such as the TCA cycle, de novo lipogenesis, gluconeogenesis, and ketogenesis, and how flux through these pathways dictates metabolic health. 

This knowledge will allow for lifestyle and pharmacologic strategies to be developed to target specific metabolic pathways.  For example, it is possible that the beneficial effects of the ketogenic diet lie in its ability to throw a metabolic switch in the liver that drives carbons into the ketogenic pathway and away from alternative pathways that lead to fatty liver and other metabolic abnormalities.   Exercise may have similar effects; by improving skeletal muscle metabolism, exercise may indirectly improve hepatic metabolism. 

NUTRITION 2024: Get ready to be part of the ultimate nutrition experience!

June 29 – July 2, 2024 · McCormick Place · Chicago, IL

Register by May 17 for Advance Rates. 

Learn More

What excites you about bringing this session to NUTRITION 2024?

This symposium will provide both basic scientists and clinical investigators knowledge regarding key outcomes on which to focus when designing intervention studies aimed at improving metabolic health.

My UAB colleague Eric Plaisance, PhD and I look forward to sharing the stage with an esteemed group who are “first timers” to the NUTRITION meeting.

Jeffrey Browning, MD is Professor and Chair of Clinical Nutrition at the UT Southwestern Medical Center and is involved in the study of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in humans. 

Peter Crawford, MD, PhD is Vice Dean for Research and Professor of Medicine at the Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota and develops and deploys metabolomics technologies to reveal the roles of intermediary and lipid metabolism in integrated physiological homeostasis using both genetically engineered mice and human subjects.

Gerald Shulman, MD, PhD, MACP, MACE, FRCP is the George R. Cowgill Professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Physiology at the Yale School of Medicine. He is also an Investigator Emeritus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Co-Director of the Yale Diabetes Research Center.