American Society For Nutrition

Interview with EB14 Symposium Co-Chair Mike Kelley

Interview with EB14 Symposium Co-Chair Mike Kelley

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation with ASN Scientific Sessions Speaker Dr. Michael Kelley

ASN's Scientific Sessions & Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology (EB) is less than 2 months away, taking place April 26-30 in San Diego, and featuring cutting-edge research from the field's most respected minds.  In today's interview, we were lucky to speak with a moderator of one of the sessions, Dr. Michael Kelley, Senior Principal Scientist for the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company.  Dr. Kelley will be co-chairing the session, “Neurocognition: The Food-Brain Connection,” along with Dr. Naiman A. Khan of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Other presenters at the session--which will be held on April 28 from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm--include Dr. James Hill of the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus, the University of Michigan's Dr. Kent Berridge, Dr. Nicole Avena of Columbia University's New York Obesity Research Center, Dr. Hisham Ziauddeen of the University of Cambridge, Dr. Miguel Alonso-Alonso of Harvard University, and the University of Alabama's Dr. David Allison. The symposium is organized by the Nutrition Translation RIS in collaboration with ILSI NA. For more information on these and other EB 2014 sessions please see ASN's meeting website.

Interviewer: Could you begin by telling readers what they should expect from your upcoming EB session?

Dr. Kelley: There has been a great deal of discussion in both the media and scientific literature in recent years regarding how certain foods or ingredients may or may not drive eating behaviors. While observations about some foods do seem to stand out, a group of us in ASN's Nutrition Translation Research Interest Section (RIS) realized last year at EB that there had not yet been a comprehensive session to look at this topic.  So we set about creating a symposium that would examine whether some foods may increase dietary intake. The result is a session that will begin with where we stand in regards to terminology, mechanism of action, methodologies, metrics and different types of outcome measures in this field. Then we will have two presentations on the proposed phenomenon of “food addiction.”  One of the presenters will cover what supports the concept of food addiction, and the other will argue why that concept is not supported. After that, we will discuss how we can measure the brain's response to food and link this to eating behavior. Central to the review will be questions of what current technologies tell us, what they are not capable of telling us, and where we should go from there.  We will wrap up with ways to apply existing standards of research and good study design to this field going forward.

Interviewer: Why is the connection between neurocognition and nutrition so important?

Dr. Kelley: The term “neurocognition” implies a working relationship between cognitive systems and the nervous system which supplies inputs and receives outputs from the cognitive systems. However, we are still uncertain of the effect of foods or their components on our cognitive processes, including the possibility of contributing to a failure to regulate eating behaviors. Alternatively, we want to know how our cognitive processes are capable of determining what and when we eat, and whether certain foods or flavors might contribute to those processes.

Interviewer: What future directions would you like to see research in this area taking in the next several years?

Dr. Kelley: That is a central question for this symposium, and we will not just be asking it of our entire panel. The session will end with a town hall discussion that will ask the audience to offer their ideas for future research and collaboration. If asked for my answer to this question, I would say that we need to identify the kinds of research efforts that are likely to answer the questions we have identified in terms of neurocognition and nutrition. This might mean that we need to look at existing structures for research, but it might also suggest that we need to form new research consortiums. We might, for example, consider asking the National Institutes of Health to fund such a collaboration, so we can ensure there is a strategically planned framework of investigation into this issue. We do not know yet how that research might need to be distributed; there may be more research needed in the neural domains or in behavioral research. I am hoping we can at least identify those needs and come up with some suggestions for a research agenda.

Interviewer: Are there other sessions at EB that you are particularly looking forward to? Do you have any advice for attendees who may be coming to EB for the first time?

Dr. Kelley: Absolutely, for young scientists who may be at the beginning of their career, I strongly suggest that they join ASN's Young Professional Interest Group (YPIG) and the Student Interest Group (SIG). YPIG is offering a symposium on April 29 called, “Successful Scientist: What's the Winning Formula?” and the SIG is putting on a symposium on April 27 called, “Best Practices for Your Research Toolkit.” The YPIG also offers a networking session and speed mentoring, so for people in the early stages of their career, there is so much going on. For those of us who are more advanced in their careers, there are so many varied sessions. I'm looking forward to the sessions on nutrition patterns and on sustainable diets, both of which will be central to the 2015 revision of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.  There are so many sessions that I really recommend attendees find a few topics that are not in your area of study and enjoy the opportunity to learn new things.

In addition to the sessions, EB offers unprecedented opportunities to meet new people and make important professional connections.  I encourage first-time attendees to meet new people every day and learn about them. I tend to be an introvert, so I try to make it my goal to meet at least five new people and find out how they got into nutrition, what they think our biggest challenges are, and what they like most about what they do in the field.

Interviewer: What are your other current research interests?

Dr. Kelley: I'm very interested in how we can affect health and longevity through diet as well as how different foods might interact with certain activities. I'm also fascinated by people's behavior around food--the factors that influence our eating choices, in particular.

Interviewer: How did you first get involved in nutrition, and why did you decide to pursue a career in the field?

Dr. Kelley: I actually started out studying engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. My initial ambition was to design cars, but I was not really prepared for the program and the head of the department ended up gently suggesting that this might not be the best field for me. I remember wandering into the academic advising office and we started discussing my interests. When we came across nutrition, I remember sitting upright immediately. I had always been interested in nutrition, but I had no idea how much fascinating science was involved. I eventually ended up graduating from UC-Berkeley and going to Colorado State University, where I earned my Master's degree working with Dr. Jacqueline Dupont. That was transformative for me. I went on to get my PhD working at Purdue University with Dr. Jon Story, who was equally influential on my scientific development. 

February 2014