Texas Tech University

Nutrition & Metabolic Health Initiative Supports Local Community and Trains Future Healthcare Providers

Ashley Brister

November 15, 2021

Students offered rare opportunity to conduct research with obesity experts and work with patients at NMHI

Students offered rare opportunity to conduct research with obesity experts and work with patients at NMHI

The Nutrition & Metabolic Health Initiative (NMHI) trains the next generation of healthcare providers and scientists in nutrition, obesity, and the nutritional aspects of metabolic diseases while offering clinical services to the local Lubbock community. In this way, NMHI truly fulfills the fundamental mission(s) of Texas Tech; Research, Education, and Community Outreach. 

“The center provides the community with different clinical or research programs related to nutrition and metabolic health while providing opportunities for students to work on different clinical research projects and learn how to be clinical professionals,” Shao-Hua Chin, Ph.D., Texas Tech alumni and former NMHI student provider said. 

NMHI was founded by Nutritional Sciences department chair, Nikhil Dhurandhar, Ph.D., in 2018 while Chin was completing her graduate program in the Nutritional Sciences department. 

“We estimate that only about two percent of nutrition departments in the country have clinical nutrition facilities similar to NMHI,” Dhurandhar said. “From the very beginning, the leadership of TTU and COHS recognized the significance of establishing NMHI and its potential impact on research productivity, student training, and community involvement. NMHI provides a unique opportunity to shape the careers of our students and touch many lives in the greater Lubbock community while advancing cutting-edge science.”

She was one of the first students to participate in the program. Chin worked with Martin Binks Ph.D., to establish the initial clinical patient package, take body composition measurements, take in patients, and receive payments. Chin even trained the first group of student providers. 

“Although I was doing clinical research, the center provided me the opportunities to work with people from the community, as ways to work with people in the community differ from working with research subjects,” Chin said.

The overarching goal of NMHI is to improve the health of adults, children, and the communities that they live in. The center does this by conducting human research to better understand metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and more. 

“Our research improves our understanding of better ways to help people improve health,” Director of NMHI, Martin Binks, Ph.D., said. “We also offer clinical programs to treat patients outside of our research studies with nutrition and lifestyle interventions for weight management, diabetes, and a range of medical conditions. We are currently doing a study to better understand COVID immunity also.”

NMHI supports Texas Tech faculty both in the department of nutritional sciences and beyond, conducting clinical research at the Texas Tech Plaza facility. Students can participate in research-only activities or volunteer as student providers. NMHI assists in the training of the students on the use of the facilities and equipment to assist their mentor in successfully conducting their research protocols. Student providers play an integral role in the day-to-day operations of NMHI and learn how to build and maintain a clinical research facility. Most students must make a 12-month commitment as student providers because the programs serve the community year-round. 

“A new or prospective student should get involved with this center because it allows you the rare opportunity to work with experts in the field of obesity management and see patients as a student provider,” Ph.D. candidate Chelsi Webster said.

Webster found the program through Dhurandhar when she switched from a basic science focus to clinical research. Webster felt that the program aligned with the career path she wanted. 

“I knew working with this center would allow me to test drive being an obesity clinician in a unique way that no other courses or opportunities would,” Webster said.

Webster feels that opportunities offered through NMHI to see and apply firsthand what she was learning in her courses supported her academic goals and enriched her overall student experience. Through NMHI, she was able to see research subjects, use state-of-the-art body composition equipment, run a research study, and observe how faculty practitioners handle patient visits

“Having a front-row seat to watch real people change their lives with our nutrition care and weight management programs was more meaningful than reading about the ideas in a book and helped me grasp everything in a more complete and memorable way,” Webster said.

NMHI has several community and campus partners and joined the Lubbock Community Network to help connect those in need with community programs to offer their services to the surrounding area. NMHI partners with Texas Tech Human Resources to provide educational health offerings to employees, and discounts to employees, students, and alumni for services through the program. The initiative also offers nutrition and lifestyle health services for diabetic employees and family members through the University Medical Center employee health plan. 

“NMHI staff have always been mindful of community outreach, which aligns well with my personal values,” Ph.D. candidate Yazmine P. Huizar said. “Alongside fellow graduate student Tanisha Basu, I developed a high school mentoring program designed to provide research training to young students.”

Huizar thinks that NMHI has made a strong commitment to accessible care for all. The initiative continues to develop programs aimed at helping underserved communities, and once those programs start, they often continue to serve the community for years to come.

“NMHI offers a student from any discipline the opportunity to learn a wide variety of skills: research, clinical, administrative, and leadership,” Huizar said. “If a student wishes to work in an integrated healthcare setting alongside doctors and dietitians, this center provides excellent training. Ultimately, any student who works here will develop into a well-rounded, emerging professional well-prepared for their career of choice.”