Texas Tech University

Nutritional Sciences Graduate Students Recognized During NUTRITION 2022 LIVE ONLINE

Mallory Collins

June 1, 2022

NS Graduate Students Texas Tech

Doctoral and Post-Doctoral students selected as finalists for the Emerging Leaders in Nutritional Sciences Abstract Recognition Award Program

Five Nutritional Sciences (NS) graduate students were selected as finalists for the Emerging Leaders in Nutritional Sciences Abstract Recognition Award Program and will be recognized at NUTRITION 2022 LIVE ONLINE in June. The students recognized for this award include Caitlyn Mullins, Ritchel Gannaban, Mahsa Yavari, Kalhara Menikdiwela and Yujiao Zu.  

American Society for Nutrition's annual scientific event will be held virtually from June 14-16. More than 700 abstracts were submitted by students and post-doctoral fellows. The Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Science Abstract Recognition Award Program aims to recognize the top 15% highest scoring abstracts. Students were recognized in different research areas and nutrition topics.  

NS Graduate Student- Mullins

Mullins is being recognized for her research in the Aging and Chronic Disease Topical Area. Specifically, she was studying a potential therapeutic compound for Alzheimer's Disease. This disease currently has no cure and impacts millions of people across the nation.

"Caitlyn is testing the beneficial effects of a BCAA-lowering compound in slowing down Alzheimer's Disease (AD) progression," said Andrew Shin, Ph.D., assistant professor in the NS program. "Her findings showing that the compound is able to substantially reduce AD-related pathologies in the AD mouse brains make it a potentially novel therapeutic agent to treat AD."

NS Graduate Student- Gannaban

Gannaban was also recognized for research in the Aging and Chronic Disease Topical Area. She studied the effects of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in glycemic control. These findings are clinically relevant because BCAAs are found in everyday food items and are used as supplements to promote fitness.

"I am so thrilled about Caitlyn Mullins and Ritchel Gannaban receiving this award since they are both bright students with great potential," Shin said. "I am very grateful to the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) for recognizing our work."

Naima Moustaid-Moussa, Ph.D., had three students also selected as finalists for the Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Science Abstract Recognition Award Program, Yavari, Menikdiwela and Zu. Moustaid-Moussa is a professor and director of the Obesity Research Institute with the College of Human Sciences Nutritional Sciences program. Moustaid-Moussa says she is so proud of her students and the hard work that is being recognized at NUTRITION 2022 LIVE ONLINE.

NS Yavari

Nutritional Sciences doctoral student, Yavari, was awarded for research in the Neuroscience/Nutrition and the Brain Topical Area. Her research focused on protective anti-inflammatory effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on metabolic impairments and neuropathology markers in the APPswePS1dE9 Alzheimer's mouse model. In this study, she conducted animal studies where wild-type and APP transgenic male and female mice were fed with low fat, high fat, and high-fat diets supplemented with EPA.

"We conducted several metabolic and behavioral experiments," Yavari said. "Currently, we are in the final stages of experiments focusing on tissue-specific mechanisms mediating the effects of EPA in the brain and adipose tissue against obesity, inflammation, and neuropathy-related markers in Alzheimer's disease."

NS Menikdiwela

Post-doctoral student, Menikdiwela was awarded for research in the Obesity Topical Area. His research was about determining the effects of a diet featuring pH enhanced ground beef on reducing diet-induced obesity and diabetes development using an in vivo mouse model. Most diets in western cultures are higher in saturated fats, fatty meats, and lower fruits, vegetables, and lean protein consumption. This research has been suggested contributing to metabolic diseases like obesity and heart diseases.

"Our objective was to test the effects of diets rich in beef prepared at various pH levels in diet-induced obese B6 mice," Menikdiwela said. "Findings from this HF diet-induced obesity research suggest potential metabolic benefits of increased dietary pH, through improved glucose clearance and fat metabolism."


Lastly, Zu is a research assistant professor in the NIOR (Nutrigenomics, Inflammation and Obesity Research Lab). Her research focused on a metabolite from omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil and she demonstrated that this metabolite (8-HEPE), reduced lipid accumulation and inflammation in fat cells. She collaborated on this work with researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

“Having 3 individuals from our NIOR lab earning such top awards indicated the high caliber of research conducted at TTU and the quality of our graduates and program,” Moustaid-Moussa said.

All the students said they were honored to receive this award and recognition for the hard work and essential research they have conducted. In the Nutritional Sciences program, students are supported and mentored by faculty members that are experts in the field. Faculty members are well established, and many have conducted high-profile studies.

"My mentor, Dr. Shin, has been the biggest influence in my academic achievements over the course of my Ph.D. studies," Mullins said. "He embodies resilience and dedication, which I believe are necessary for success in any field."

The NS graduate program gives students opportunities to serve in a clinical role with community service and outreach. The program allows them laboratory experience and academic recognition. Students gain a broad range of research specialties that are ensured through doctoral work in an area that supports educational and career objectives.

"I'm so happy that the department of Nutritional Science accepted me in 2018 for the graduate program and provided great courses and a well-equipped lab for doing our research," Yavari said. "The diversity we have here, caring and knowledgeable professors, and funding resources have help us focus on our study and present our research and Texas Tech University in the best way."