Susan J. Sumner, PhD

Professor of Nutrition and Pharmacology

Susan Sumner, PhD is a Professor of Nutrition at UNC Chapel Hill’s Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), and the Director of the Metabolomics and Exposome Laboratory (MEL) at UNC Chapel Hill. Dr. Sumner is working to make personalized medicine and precision nutrition a reality.  Using state-of-the-art metabolomics and exposome technologies, Dr. Sumner’s team determines how molecules that are present in our tissues and biological fluids are associated with states of health and wellness. Through this approach, biomarkers are discovered that can lead to new diagnostics for the early detection and diagnosis of disease, to monitor treatment and intervention, and to inform the development of intervention strategies.

The Sumner-Lab uses analytical methods to detect tens of thousands of signals for molecules that are present in biological specimens (such as urine, serum, plasma, feces, sweat, tissues, and cells). Using untargeted metabolomics, signals are detected for metabolites that are derived from endogenous metabolic process, such as neurotransmitters, hormones and steroids, sugars, amino acids, purines and pyrimidines, lipids, fatty acids, and vitamins and essential nutrients. Signals are also detected for metabolites derived from a wide range of exposures, including metabolites derived from ingestion of foods, intake of medications or drugs of abuse, and environmentally relevant


Show Morechemicals. Natural occurring chemicals found in foods (e.g., folate, choline) and beverages (e.g., polyphenols, benzoate) have been associated with both positive and negative health responses. Perturbations in endogenous metabolism have been associated with many prescribed and over the counter medications, as well as illicit drugs. Metabolites of many environmentally relevant chemicals are also detected (including  phthalates, pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, parabens, brominated flame retardants, tobacco products, phenols, and volatile organic compounds) which have been linked with a variety of adverse health outcomes – including obesity, cognitive delay and decline, reproductive effects, and cancer.

Dr. Sumner’s research activities in Personalized Medicine and Precision Nutrition span several domain areas of Maternal and Child Health, Diabetes and Kidney Disease, Toxicology, Cancer, Microbiome, and Addiction. In 2019, she received a grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to discover biomarkers and mechanisms associated with Cardiovascular Disease. She has served as the PI of a grant funded through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to use metabolomics to reveal noninvasive markers of drug-induced liver injury, and as PI of the NIH Common Fund Eastern Regional Comprehensive Metabolomics Resource Core (ERCMRC). She currently directs the Metabolomics Core for the UNC Chapel Hill Nutrition Obesity Resource Center (NORC, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIDDK), and an Exposome Core for the Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR) program (funded by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, NIEHS).

In August of 2019, Dr. Sumner received a grant to develop new tools and conduct untargeted analysis for the NIEHS-funded Human Health Exposure Analysis Resource (HHEAR) Program. Under this grant, untargeted analysis will be used to study the complex interactions between environmental exposures throughout the lifespan and human health outcomes.

Dr. Sumner earned a B.S. and Ph.D. in the Department of Chemistry at North Carolina State University, and conducted postdoctoral research at NHLBI.


Sumner’s Team

BSPH Students

Heidi Cao

Heidi Cao

BSPH Candidate

Mansi Choudhari

Mansi Choudhari

BSPH Candidate

Grace Huiyu Fu

Grace Huiyu Fu

BSPH Candidate

The North Carolina Human Health Exposure Analysis Resource Hub (NC HHEAR Hub)

Metabolomics and Exposome Laboratory (MEL) for the following NIH Centers

Nutritional Pharmacology/Toxicology

Choline and Related Metabolites in Nutrition Research

Metabolomics: Using In Vitro Models to Reveal Mechanisms of Cellular Response

700 MHz NMR Spectroscopy Services on the North Carolina Research Campus

Quantitative Targeted Analysis of Host Metabolism - Biocrates

Recent Grants Supported by the Metabolomics and Exposome Laboratory (MEL)

R01HL143885 (Sumner, MPI, UNC-CH): 2019–2023
Leveraging multi-omics approaches to examine metabolic challenges of obesity in relation to cardiovascular diseases.

1U01CA235507 (Du, PI, UNC-Charlotte): 2018–2022                         
Cross-Platform and Graphical Software Tool for Adaptive LC/MS and GC/MS Metabolomics Data Preprocessing

1R37CA226969-01 (Bae-Jump, PI, UNC-CH): 2018–2023                           
Obesity-driven Metabolic and Molecular Biomarkers of Metformin Response in Endometrial Cancer

1R21CA235029-01 (Smith-Ryan & Bae-Jump, MPI, UNC Chapel Hill): 2019–2020                   
Interval Exercise Training as a Therapy for Endometrial Cancer

1U01OH011300-01A1 (Nolan, PI, NYUSOM): 2017– 2023                            
Metabolomics of World Trade Center-Lung Injury

1R01DK115380-01 (Zeisel, PI, UNC Chapel Hill): 2017- 2021
Developing a Biomarker Panel to Assess Choline Nutritional Status

U01ES027254 (Sumner, MPI, UNC Chapel Hill): 2016–2021                       
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Early-life END exposure and the impact on neurobehavioral, cardiovascular, and biochemical mechanisms.

5UG3OD023275 (Karagas, PI, Dartmouth College): 2016-2023        
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Environmental Influences of Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Pediatrics Cohort
New Hampshire Birth Cohort

5UG3OD023305 (Trasande, PI, NYU School of Medicine): 2016-2023      
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences                                       
Environmental Influences of Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Pediatrics Cohort
NYU Pediatric Obesity, Metabolism and Kidney Cohort Center 

R01DK110077 (Smoyer, PI, Nationwide Children’s Hospital)   2017-2022  
Integrating Proteomics and Metabolomics to Understand Pediatric Glomerular Disease

1R21HD087878-01A1 (Harville, PI, Tulane): 2017-2019
Preterm birth, pre-eclampsia, and the exposome

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Susan Sumner, PhD, is a professor of Nutrition and pharmacology at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute. Using state-of-the-art metabolomics and exposome technologies, Sumner’s team determines how molecules that are present in our tissues and biological fluids are...

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2021 Publications


Emerging technologies and their impact on regulatory science

Chemical exposures assessed via silicone wristbands and endogenous plasma metabolomics during pregnancy

Fecal Metabolomics Reveals Products of Dysregulated Proteolysis and Altered Microbial Metabolism in Obesity-Related Osteoarthritis

Association of Cesarean Delivery and Formula Supplementation with the Stool Metabolome of 6-week-old Infants

Intravenous Administration of Three Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes to Female Rats and their Effect on Urinary Biochemical Profile

The Effects of Diet and Exercise on Endogenous Estrogens and Subsequent Breast Cancer Risk in Postmenopausal Women

Bridging the Gap Between Analytical and Microbial Sciences in Microbiome Research

Associations between the gut microbiome and metabolome in early life

Association of Increased Serum Lipopolysaccharide but not Microbial Dysbiosis with Obesity-related Osteoarthritis

Knockout of putative tumor suppressor Aldh1l1 in mice reprograms metabolism to accelerate growth of tumors in a diethylnitrosamine (DEN) model of liver carcinogenesis

Simulated Gastric Digestion and In Vivo Intestinal Uptake of Orally Administered CuO Nanoparticles and TiOE171 in Male and Female Rat Pups

Multi-omics analysis of glucose-mediated signaling by a moonlighting Gβ protein Asc1/RACK1

Metabolic Response of Triple-Negative Breast Cancer to Folate Restriction

Information enhanced model selection for Gaussian graphical model with application to metabolomic data

The role of gut microbial community and metabolomic shifts in adaptive resistance of Atlantic killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Untargeted analysis of first trimester serum to reveal biomarkers of pregnancy complications: a case-control discovery phase study

Metabolomics reveals biomarkers of opioid use disorder

Existing antiviral options against SARS-CoV-2 replication in COVID-19 patients

2019 Publications

Predicting and Defining Steroid Resistance in Pediatric Nephrotic Syndrome Using Plasma Metabolomics.

Predicting and Defining Steroid Resistance in Pediatric Nephrotic Syndrome Using Plasma Proteomics.

Cytosolic 10-formyltetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase regulates glycine metabolism in mouse liver.

Multi-omics studies in cellular models of methylmalonic acidemia and propionic acidemia reveal dysregulation of serine metabolism.

LC-MS-based metabolomics analysis to identify meprin-β-associated changes in kidney tissue from mice with STZ-induced type 1 diabetes and diabetic kidney injury.

Deleterious mutations in ALDH1L2 suggest a novel cause for neuro-ichthyotic syndrome.

Meprin β metalloproteases associated with differential metabolite profiles in the plasma and urine of mice with type 1 diabetes and diabetic nephropathy.

Health-related quality of life in glomerular disease.

A metabolomics approach to investigate kukoamine B – a potent natural product with anti-diabetic properties.

The impact of early-life sub-therapeutic antibiotic treatment (STAT) on excessive weight is robust despite transfer of intestinal microbes.

Human PAH is characterized by a pattern of lipid-related insulin resistance.

CureGN Study Rationale, Design, and Methods: Establishing a Large Prospective Observational Study of Glomerular Disease.

Metabolomics for Biomarker Discovery and to Derive Genetics Links to Disease.

Exposure to inorganic arsenic and its methylated metabolites alters metabolomics profiles in INS-1 832/13 insulinoma cells and isolated pancreatic islets.

Quantitative methods for metabolic analyses evaluated in the Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR).

Metabolomics to reveal biomarkers and pathways of preterm birth: A systematic review and epidemiologic perspective.


2017 Publications

A Microbiomic Analysis in African Americans with Colonic Lesions Reveals Streptococcus sp.VT162 as a Marker of Neoplastic Transformation.

Detailed Investigation and Comparison of the XCMS and MZmine 2 Chromatogram Construction and Chromatographic Peak Detection Methods for Preprocessing Mass Spectrometry Metabolomics Data.

One Step Forward for Reducing False Positive and False Negative Compound Identifications from Mass Spectrometry Metabolomics Data: New Algorithms for Constructing Extracted Ion Chromatograms and Detecting Chromatographic Peaks.

Metabolomics reveal physiological changes in mayfly larvae (Neocloeon triangulifer) at ecological upper thermal limits.

Pretreatment with indomethacin results in increased heat stroke severity during recovery in a rodent model of heat stroke.

Direct and transgenerational effects of low doses of perinatal di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) on social behaviors in mice.

Metabolites as biomarkers of adverse reactions following vaccination: A pilot study using nuclear magnetic resonance metabolomics.

Metabolic profiling of a chronic kidney disease cohort reveals metabolic phenotype more likely to benefit from a probiotic.

Neonatal Metabolomic Profiles Related to Prenatal Arsenic Exposure.

Systems biology for organotypic cell cultures.

Serum Metabolomic Profiles in Neonatal Mice following Oral Brominated Flame Retardant Exposures to Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) Alpha, Gamma, and Commercial Mixture.

Disposition of intravenously or orally administered silver nanoparticles in pregnant rats and the effect on the biochemical profile in urine.

Preterm neonatal urinary renal developmental and acute kidney injury metabolomic profiling: an exploratory study.