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
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
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
Interviewer: What are your other current research
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.