Texas Tech University

Spotlight on COHS Centers and Institutes

Hannah Fields

April 6, 2021


Nutrition and Metabolic Health Initiative

Located at Texas Tech Plaza at 19th and University Ave., the Nutrition and Metabolic Health Initiative (NMHI) is an essential arm of the Texas Tech Department of Nutritional Sciences. NMHI provides a place for faculty, students, clinicians, and patients to conduct nutritional sciences research and gain access to nutrition and behavior change services, while providing education for students in these areas.

“We provide state of the art facilities and an operational infrastructure to train the next generations of healthcare providers and scientists in nutrition, obesity and nutritional aspects of metabolic diseases while fulfilling the fundamental missions of Texas Tech University: Research, education, and community outreach,” Professor and Director of Nutrition & Metabolic Health Initiative Martin Binks, Ph.D., said. 

The overall goal of NMHI is to improve the health of adults, children, and the communities in which they live. This is achieved by providing expert clinical services to the Lubbock community including weight management, nutrition counseling, metabolic testing, and body composition. In addition, NMHI aims to conduct and advance research in clinical nutrition, obesity, community nutrition and neuroscience-related brain involvement in eating and metabolism. 

Researchers such as assistant professor Shannon Galyean, Ph.D., RDN, LD, provides clinical services within the Nutrition and Metabolic Health Initiative as a registered dietician nutritionist, particularly for its Optifast clinic for weight management. It is in this role that Galyean hopes to teach people to eat well and make lasting changes in their diet and lifestyle that lead to health improvements and increased quality of life.

“My research involves clinical nutrition, obesity, and micronutrient research,” Galyean explained. “I conduct DXA scans at NMHI as part of my research to determine what the best vitamin D recommendations for bone health are. I also conduct research involving culinary education and dietary patterns to improve cardiometabolic health among many different populations such as people with type 2 diabetes, obesity, bariatric surgery patients, and healthy individuals of all ages.”

In addition to internal research and services, such as Galyean's, NMHI is in the process of joining the Lubbock Community Network – a network created by the City of Lubbock Health Department and its community partners, in partnership with Signify Health, to help improve health referrals and communication of health needs for those in need within the Lubbock community.

“Healthcare and social service providers will be able to quickly and effectively collaborate around the needs of individuals, connecting them to community programs that address the many social determinants of health, such as childcare, financial stability, youth engagement, and access to healthy food and transportation,” Binks said.

NMHI has also taken its partnerships further within the Lubbock and Texas Tech communities, partnering with University Medical Center to provide nutrition and lifestyle health services to various clinics and partnering with Human Resources at TTU to provide educational health offerings and discounted services to TTU employees. 

Just as the Nutrition and Metabolic Health Initiative's faculty researchers and services are important, so is the work of its students. 

“NMHI couldn't exist without our students,” Galyean said. “They all train and help with every aspect of clinical services and research studies.”

Maintaining an “all hands on deck” philosophy, students learn every aspect of what it takes to work in a vibrant clinical research facility. Through volunteer training, students are given the opportunity to work alongside faculty attending to patients and performing assessments under faculty supervision. 

Dhanashree Sawant, a second-year master's student enrolled in the Nutritional Sciences graduate program, is a research assistant working with Dr. Galyean within NMHI on various clinical trials and research activities. Her work at NMHI is also essential to the work of her thesis.

“I am entirely dependent on NMHI to provide me with the space and equipment to fulfil my data collection activities,” Sawant said. “This includes diet counseling in consultation rooms, blood pressure measurements, body composition analysis, and more.”

Sawant also assists in the ongoing NMHI weight management programs and has been trained to use several health status assessment tools such as BODPOD, metabolic cart, and Medgem, saying such practical exposure of seeing patients with a healthcare provider is preparing her for her career. 

Speaking of her experience with NMHI, Sawant says she enjoys interacting with experienced healthcare professionals and the positive, friendly atmosphere of the NMHI lab. She also speaks highly of the lab's positive impact on the Lubbock community. 

“I believe NMHI not only helps the community to lead a healthy lifestyle through the nutrition and weight management programs and state of the art facilities, but also promotes research activities which are crucial to the dynamic field of nutrition,” Sawant said. “The patients and study participants I have interacted with so far at NMHI love coming here and always share a positive feedback about their experience.”

NMHI was also able to continue its services during the COVID-19 pandemic by developing comprehensive safety protocols, such as implementing telemedicine protocols for ongoing care of its clinical and research participants. The facility also added pre-visit screening, onsite parking lot screening appointments, and enhanced social distancing and cleaning protocols once they reopened in June of 2020.

“Our protocols also allowed students to continue their training at NMHI throughout the last year and exposed them to what I hope is the most uniquely challenging public health experience of their careers,” Binks said. “I have never been so proud of a group of early career professionals in my life.”

Whether it is training the next generation of healthcare professionals or providing unique services to the Lubbock community, the Nutrition and Metabolic Health Initiative provides expert clinical advice, metabolic care, and training in a cutting edge facility for students and the people of Lubbock and surrounding communities. 

“We were fortunate to be able to create a state of the art facility such as NMHI, with strong support from College of Human Sciences and Texas Tech University administration,” Nutritional Sciences chair Nikhil Dhurandhar, Ph.D., said. “An estimated only two percent of Nutritional Sciences departments in the country have the kind of clinical nutrition facility that we have. NMHI has been receiving active participation from many faculty members and students and has been fostering collaborations with many departments. Since its inception, we have continually expanded our facility, services, and programs, which we plan to continue with support from Texas Tech and the Lubbock community.”