The UNC Nutrition Research Institute is pleased to welcome Nipun Saini, PhD, to its faculty. Previously, Saini worked as a postdoctoral research associate in the Smith Lab. Saini worked in the Smith Lab for six years, helping the team advance in understanding the mechanisms of alcohol and micronutrient interactions (iron) and its impact on fetal growth and brain development.

In her new role, Assistant Professor of Nutrition, Saini will investigate the metabolic dysregulations in macronutrient utilization in maternal-fetal dyad in alcohol-exposed pregnancies and its contributions to impaired fetal development and long-term offspring health. Her current research identified disrupted hepatic glucose and lipid metabolism in alcohol-exposed mothers that limit the availability of maternal glucose to the fetus.

“Through my research, I want to understand how alcohol interacts with these nutrients in the mother and causes harmful effects in the baby. In the womb, one of the main sources of energy for baby’s growth is glucose that comes from the mother. Glucose is the simplest form of sugar and is used for fetal growth, organ development and even storing fat, which is used by the baby after birth,” explains Saini. She further explains, “alcohol limits the transfer of maternal glucose to the fetus, and this could be one of the contributors of fetal growth restriction and impaired neurodevelopment that we see in FASD.” Her long-term goal is to identify nutritional interventions that can reduce the harmful effects of alcohol on the growing fetus.

This line of study is particularly significant because alcohol’s impact on maternal metabolism in FASD is a neglected area of research. Her research fills an important gap in the prenatal alcohol research wherein maternal metabolism is the driver and contributes to fetal impairments.

Saini says the good news is that FASD is preventable and her research on dysregulated maternal metabolism provides an opportunity to identify mechanisms and nutritional interventions that could advance the field in mitigating harmful effects of alcohol on fetal growth and brain development.

“Nipun Saini was a star of our research team, leading our investigations into Omics of prenatal alcohol exposure. Her discovery of the metabolic dysregulation in alcohol-exposed mothers is a major finding that will propel her career as a future leader in nutrition and metabolism,” praised Susan Smith, PhD, Institute Deputy Director and Profession of Nutrition.

We’re excited to watch Saini’s research grow and further the NRI’s mission to lead the field of personalized nutrition research by applying advanced scientific methods for understanding individual requirements for and responses to nutrients.