Under Zeisel’s leadership, this collaboration is the defining hallmark that will revolutionize the field of nutrition worldwide.Zeisel’s passion for the science of nutrition is evident throughout his distinguished career. He initially attended medical school at Harvard and completed his residency in pediatrics at Yale- New Haven Hospital. He earned his Ph.D. in Nutrition from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979.
After rising to the rank of professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine, Zeisel joined UNC-Chapel Hill’s faculty in 1990, becoming professor and chair of the UNC Department of Nutrition (the first department of nutrition in the country in both a school of public health and a medical school). In 1999, he was named Associate Dean of Research for the UNC School of Public Health. Later he began directing UNC’s Clinical Nutrition Research Unit (now called the UNC Nutrition Obesity Research Center). Subsequently, he was named a Kenan Distinguished University Professor of Nutrition & Pediatrics at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and at the UNC School of Medicine in 2005.
A world-renowned scientist, Zeisel is credited with the discovery of choline’s role as an essential nutrient, particularly for women during pregnancy. His studies on choline were the first to create an understanding of the nutrient’s critical role in brain development of infants.
His research led the field of nutrition to establish the significance of this essential nutrient for brain development and outline the far-reaching implications for pregnant mothers.
After discovering that a defined level of choline in the mother’s body during pregnancy enhances the brain efficiency of the child three- fold, Zeisel and his research team further established that a select group of mothers were able to produce choline naturally. Zeisel continued his research on choline to identify the genetic markers that will allow mothers to test whether they produce sufficient levels of choline naturally, or if dietary intervention is required.
This focus on individual variation and nutritional needs has since become the mission of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute. With this mission as a guiding principle, Dr. Zeisel and NRI research teams focus on identifying individual differences in nutrient metabolism, using the variation in requirements for choline as a model.
Currently, Zeisel’s laboratory teams are investigating how gene misspellings alter dietary requirements, how diet can add marks to genes which turn them on an off (epigenetics), and how choline is needed for normal liver, muscle and sperm function. All of these studies have been supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Zeisel’s research efforts have won him many awards, including the esteemed National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Falk Award. Zeisel received the award at the event in October, 2010 at Research Triangle Park, where he presented the Hans L. Falk Memorial Lecture entitled, “Nutrigenomics, Estrogen and Environmental Chemicals Influence the Dietary Requirements of Choline.” Each year a featured speaker that has made significant contributions to environmental health sciences research presents a memorial lecture honoring Hans L. Falk, NIEHS’ first scientific director. That same year, Dr. Zeisel delivered the State-of-the Art Lecture at the Annual meeting of the American Gastroenterologic Association.
In 2009, Zeisel was also selected to deliver the prestigious W.O. Atwater Lecture by the US Department of Agriculture, an honor reserved for those scientists who have made unique contributions toward improving the diet and nutrition of people around the world.
His other prestigious honors and awards include the American Society for Nutrition’s Osborne and Mendel Award, the American College of Nutrition’s Award for Outstanding Achievements in Nutrition, and the Bristol-Meyers Squibb/Mead Johnson Award for Distinguished Achievement in Nutrition.
For more information about Dr. Zeisel or to schedule an interview, please contact the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, 704-250-5008.
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Zeisel’s Research Team
Research Technician, Zeisel Lab
Walter Friday, a Kannapolis native, recently returned to Cabarrus County to get married. He is a 2010 graduate of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College with an AAS in Biotechnology. He is pleased to be working at the Nutrition Research Institute as a research technician. He enjoys spending time with his wife, reading, and traveling.
Social/Clinical Research Associate, Zeisel Lab
Doretha Grier, a native of Kannapolis, joined the Nutrition Research Institute in March 2020. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and holds a Masters in Middle Grades Science Education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Certifications include Academically Gifted Certification from the University of Chapel Hill and National Board Certification for Professional Teachers. Her work experiences include teaching science for over 20 years in Kannapolis. She is married with two grown children, two special nieces, and a nephew she considers her own. In her spare time she enjoys reading, spending time with family and traveling. She is pleased to be a part of the NRI.
Research Technician, Zeisel Lab
Lauren joined the NRI in July 2018 as a Research Technician for the Zeisel Lab. She is currently a senior at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology with a minor in Public Health. Lauren is a Charlotte native and enjoys traveling, and spending time with her family.
Study Coordinator, Zeisel Lab
Julie joined the NRI in 2009 with Dr. Carol Cheatham’s Nutrition & Cognition Lab where she helped launch some of the first human studies completed on the NCRC. In her time with the NRI, she has also enjoyed working with Dr. Phil May to learn more about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). She and has worked on research studies with babies, toddlers, school age children, and adults of all ages. Julie earned a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications and a Masters in Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Julie’s current project is coordinating the Choline Status Study for Dr. Zeisel’s lab.
Isis Trujillo, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Zeisel Lab
Isis Trujillo received her PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Her research was focused on the role of metabolic proteins associated with biotin in transcriptional regulation. She also collaborated on breast cancer research projects. Her interests include nutrigenomics, epigenetics and metabolism. She is now investigating how bioavailability of choline affects epigenetics neural progenitor cells.
- Precision (Personalized) Nutrition: Understanding Metabolic Heterogeneity
- Effect of Egg Ingestion on trimethylamine-N-oxide Production in Humans: A Randomized, Controlled, Dose-Response Study
- Microbiota-Dependent Metabolite Trimethylamine N-Oxide and Coronary Artery Calcium in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study (CARDIA)
- Trimethylamine N-Oxide, the Microbiome, and Heart and Kidney Disease
- Protein Intake at Twice the RDA in Older Men Increases Circulatory Concentrations of the Microbiome Metabolite Trimethylamine-N-Oxide (TMAO).
- Low availability of choline in utero disrupts development and function of the retina.
- Deletion of one allele of Mthfd1 (methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase 1) impairs learning in mice.
- Plasma 1-carbon metabolites and academic achievement in 15-yr-old adolescents.
- Feasibility and Acceptability of Maternal Choline Supplementation in Heavy Drinking Pregnant Women: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.
- Efficacy of Maternal Choline Supplementation During Pregnancy in Mitigating Adverse Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Growth and Cognitive Function: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.