Explorations Magazine - Fall 2016 - Rutgers SEBS Office of Alumni and Community Engagement

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Hans Fisher

When Hans Fisher AG’50, the Department of Nutritional Sciences’ first chair, came to Rutgers in 1954 as part of the poultry science department, there was no laboratory for him in Thompson Hall—“not even running water on the first or second floor,” he recalls. And while there were nutritionists working throughout the university in departments like home economics, animal husbandry, and food science, there was no centralized body working in the area of nutritional sciences. By the late 1950s, things started to shift. Fisher joined up with the roughly 15 other nutritionists at Rutgers to form the Nutrition Council, which was authorized by the graduate school to offer master’s and doctoral degrees in nutrition. “Since there was no formal department, this council had jurisdiction over these two degrees,” Fisher says. But that changed in 1966, when then university president Mason Gross announced the official formation of the Department of Nutritional Sciences. The Nutrition Council quickly elected Fisher to be the chair. Fisher’s tenure, from 1966 to 1988, ushered in a great deal of change for the burgeoning department. “There was very, very little emphasis on human nutrition in those early days,” Fisher says, though he did spearhead a human nutrition program in the 1960s that focused on amino acids. “We had obligations to the farm community at that time to help them develop diets for cows or horses, and our focus was primarily oriented towards animal husbandry. The real turn away from that came in the 1970s and 1980s.” Today, the groundwork laid in the 1960s and subsequent decades takes the shape of a department with three major charges pertaining to human nutrition: excellence in undergraduate and graduate education; emphasis on cutting-edge nutrition research; and commitment to service, by utilizing research findings to improve the nutrition, health, and overall well being of the community. This year, the Department of Nutritional Sciences celebrates 50 illustrious years—and with justifiable pride.

Research for Today’s Challenges

Photography courtesy of Hans Fisher and John O’Boyle.

Research in the Department of Nutritional Sciences takes place in the lab and in the community, at the intersection of biology and social science. One area in which the department has excelled has been lipid (fat) metabolism, where researchers determine how to best measure lipids and assess how fats are transported, stored, and released in cells, as well as the effects of obesity on other issues like osteoporosis or intestinal health. “Together, their work provides fundamental knowledge that will lead to preventative and therapeutic approaches against obesity, heart disease, and other diseases,” says Joshua Miller, department chair. Amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) represent another area of focus for researchers. Faculty members look at questions like: How might aminos affect fat cells, and how can supplements prevent muscle loss? How might an amino acid deficiency affect body fat accumulation—and how might it help treat lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer? How might B vitamin deficiency and high blood levels of a type of amino acid affect cognitive function and Alzheimer’s disease risk? Joshua Miller



Still other research takes place on topics like childhood nutrition, taste, and other senses, as well as malnutrition across the globe.