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Member Highlight Interview: Patrick Stover, Ph.D.

Dr. Stover graduated from Saint Joseph’s University with a B.S. degree in Chemistry and was awarded the Molloy Chemistry Award at graduation. He received a Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from the Medical College of Virginia and performed his postdoctoral studies in Nutritional Sciences at the University of California at Berkeley. Patrick Stover was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 2016. In 2014, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also he received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities and the Osborne and Mendel Award for outstanding recent basic research accomplishments in nutrition from the American Society for Nutrition.

In 2012, he received a MERIT award from NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and in 1999, he received the E.R.L. Stokstad Award in Nutritional Biochemistry from the American Society for Nutritional Sciences. In 1996, Patrick Stover received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Clinton, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers, and he has been selected as an Outstanding Educator four times by Cornell Merrill Presidential Scholars. He also serves as Editor for the Annual Review of Nutrition.

How did you first get involved in nutritional biochemistry and research? What made you interested in the field of nutrition science?

I caught the research bug through an undergraduate research experience at Saint Joseph’s University. Dr. Nelson’s research group was funded by the Naval Air Development Center and focused on the design, synthesis and function of synthetic prostaglandin oligomers as anti-ischemic agents. Studying the role and biological function of small nutrients became my passion and drove my interest in metabolism and biochemistry. I then studied enzymology and folate metabolism for my doctoral research under the mentorship of Dr. Verne Schirch at the Medical College of Virginia. This experience naturally led to an interest in nutrition and my migration to the University of California at Berkeley, when I studied folate nutrition and metabolism in the research group of Dr. Barry Shane.

When and why did you first join ASN? What value does ASN continue to provide you?

I joined ASN much later than I should have. I had regularly attended Experimental Biology and participated in ASN programming since graduate school but was most active in ASBMB. I joined ASN in1999 shortly after I was tenured as an associate professor, initially due to my interest in graduate education. I joined the Graduate Nutrition Education Committee and rose to rank of chair when we published what I believe is still a very important resource for all nutrition graduate programs: J Nutr.2002 Apr;132(4):779-84. ASN became my academic and professional home over the years—where I see old and meet new colleagues and collaborators, where my students present their research findings, where I developed leadership skills, and where I give time and treasure back to the nutrition community.

What aspects of ASN membership have you found most useful, professionally for you, your faculty and students? What other aspects of your membership do you find useful as your career has progressed?

All science is now a “social” science—collaboration is critical to address most important research questions. No one can succeed in a vacuum. Understanding how to forge meaningful and constructive partnerships through collaboration is essential to success, and ASN offers numerous opportunities to bring scientists together in an environment that promotes the exchange of ideas. Importantly, ASN also actively promotes mentoring opportunities for students and junior scientists, which has been invaluable for my students.

What aspects of your research do you foresee being most important for ASN members?

My bias is that nutrition, in all its dimensions, behaves as a complex dynamic system, and system approaches are needed to provide solutions to the problems we seek to solve. Hence, many of my current collaborators are those expert in systems biology and computer science.

Can you tell us more about your new position and what you hope to accomplish?

Perhaps the greatest challenge of our time is harmonizing agriculture, food systems, human health and environmental health. This is essential to address skyrocketing diet-related health care costs, environmental deterioration, and to ensure sustainability of our agriculture systems. Texas, as a national leader in agricultural production, coupled with its Healthy Texas A&M AgriLife Extension initiative, will be a model for aligning healthy and profitable agriculture with healthy people and healthy environments. As Vice Chancellor and Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University and System, I have the privilege of working with the talented faculty, academic staff, students, state-wide agencies and stakeholders to be a national model for excellence in meeting the one-health challenge through research, teaching, Extension and service.

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

For the students and trainees, do what you love and you’ll love what you do! Strive to become a world-class expert in your field and enjoy as many colleagues as you can. Share your ideas with others, and they will share openly with you. Give back to the community that has given so much to you…perhaps through the ASN Foundation!

 

The Stover research group investigates the chemical, biochemical, genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that underlie the relationships between one-carbon metabolism and human pathologies including neural tube defects, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Specific interests include the regulation of folate-mediated one-carbon metabolism and genome expression and stability, the molecular basis of the fetal origins hypothesis, development of mouse models to elucidate mechanisms of folate-related pathologies, and translational control of gene expression.

 

How Nutrition Science Should Mature

how nutrition science should mature

Dennis Bier, MD, was this year’s W.O. Atwater Memorial Award Winner and Lecturer at ASN’s Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting on Tuesday, sponsored by USDA-ARS and ASN. His talk, titled “Traveling the Road From Precision to Imprecision- Have I Gone in the Wrong Direction?” was a broad critique on the state of nutrition science, contrasting his long research career using isotopics for precise kinetic measurements in humans to some of the more imprecise techniques being used in nutrition. Human nutrition today remains an immature science, says Dr. Bier, because it is so difficult to accurately measure what people eat.

Among his critique along this line, he noted that individual nutrient intake measurement methods are “validated” against other imprecise methods, and even these correlations are generally weak within the 0.2 to 0.5 range. Further, it generally takes between 5-15 24-hour diet recalls, sometimes many more, to achieve an adequate estimation of nutrient intakes in overweight and obese participants, which is never done in practice. Another problem is the seasonal variability of nutrients in foods, using vitamin C as an example, or variation from changes during processing and cooking. If such variation is considered in epidemiological studies associating foods with disease outcomes, it greatly reduces the power to detect a statistically significant result, or can change a result from a positive association to a neutral one.

Should we think about nutrition as a science in the same manner as other disciplines like physics? Bier thinks we should. The differences are obvious now. It is extremely difficult to do long-term experiments in people for many reasons of practicality and cost. But if we concede to this difficulty, our confidence in certain areas of nutrition science will remain stagnant. There are some examples where observational data seems to have led us astray, for example with vitamin E and a follow-up negative trial, and similarly with homocysteine reduction with folic acid and a follow-up negative trial. Dr. Bier noted that more than 15 randomized controlled trials have failed to support nutrient hypotheses generated from observational studies of food intake. There may be many reasons for this: differences in subjects, inclusion criteria, dose or duration, therapeutic window, etc., but we also must consider that the observational data may lead us astray. There are underappreciated interdependencies in observational variables that cannot all be statistically accounted for. Bier’s cautions on such data should be uncontroversial. Associations uncovered in observational studies are hypothesis, they cannot infer causality, and drawing conclusions from them are fine as long as their uncertainty is acknowledged where they are used. In practice, however, these rules are often not followed.

Bier concluded by talking about the many issues that plague science in general that make the literature less reliable. For instance, 95% of the biomedical literature contains a significant result, suggesting a severe publication bias in favor of positive results. Other issues arise with a large researcher degrees of freedom; that is, the number of choices the researcher makes when designing a study or analyzing the results. Asking a lot of questions, changing the primary endpoints, focusing on positive endpoints and discounting negative ones. In reporting of results, implying causality from associations is often done inappropriately, or inflating the effect of the finding by only reporting relative risk instead of absolute risk.

“Transparent science, like transparent government, means releasing your tax returns.” Dr. Bier wants the field to think more about reporting. Among a long list of ways that scientific integrity can be improved: require a priori registration of all studies and a data analysis plan, report all primary endpoints together, require perspective in reporting of the results (e.g. effect sizes, confidence intervals, absolute risks, NNT, etc.), mandatory use of reporting guidelines, report alternative analyses (e.g. alternative models that fit the data with equivalent statistical confidence), making the original data available for scrutiny, and improving the disclosure of conflicts of interest. Everyone has some form of conflicts, for example, money, grants, fame, etc., and Bier thinks that allegiance biases are at least as common as financial ones, so we need to come up with a universal conflict of interest system to make this standardized and fair.

While Dr. Bier’s views may be too idealistic for some, he promotes a necessary conversation about how we improve nutrition science and reduce our uncertainties. To that end, the field should continuously strive to enforce policies and practices that better our measurement techniques and limit bias.

Top 5 Tips to Getting Your Work Published in ASN Journals

By: Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist
ASN Blogger at EB 2010

If you’re a nutrition scientist, you know you need to get published. Well, I’ve got your crib sheet on how to boost your chances of seeing your name in print (or online).

Presenting… the top 5 tips for getting accepted into ASN Journals by none other than the editors themselves.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Make sure your work is right for AJCN or JN. About 25% of papers are returned simply because they aren’t a good fit for the publications. For example, a food science paper is not really going to get in a publication that is more clinical.

2. You have to be timely. You cannot afford to let your work get old. Do the work. Have something to say and get to writing. Old data is not newsworthy, and your chances of getting published are greatly diminished. Don’t let yourself procrastinate the writing. Get your rough ideas down in a rough flow. You may find that it is easier to get your tables and data down first because you can visualize the rest more easily.

3. Ask the right question. You have to have a strong research question. Be relevant and significant. The research question is the foundation of the study. You can’t possibly have a study worthy of publishing with a poor research question.

4. Be realistic in your inferences. No matter how much you love your work and believe in its potential, don’t make a “passionate” inference or even conclude something you really can’t justify. Avoid exuberance at all costs.

5. Admit when you aren’t perfect. You need to make sure you acknowledge flaws in the methodology. This is so important for readers to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your work. This information is crucial for development of future studies as well.

Good luck… and have fun!

Rebecca Scritchfield is a Washington, D.C. based registered dietitian in private practice specializing in healthy weight management. She is a member of ASN and is covering several events at EB 2010 through social media.