American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Robert M. Russell, ASN President

Interview with Dr. Robert M. Russell, ASN President

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice

ASN's new president, Dr. Rob Russell, has been a member of the organization since 1974, which was then called the American Institute of Nutrition (AIN).  Around that time, Dr. Russell attended his first of many Experimental Biology meetings, at the time known as Federation Meetings between AIN and the American Society of Clinical Nutrition (ASCN).  In the 1970s, Dr. Russell tells us, AIN and ASCN provided, “The only place where MDs who were interested in nutrition and in the role of nutrition in healthcare could come to discuss and present their research.”

Those early meetings in the 1970s might seem a long way off from 2010, especially when we consider how much ASN has grown.  Just a few years ago, ASN joined together with the ASCN, the American Society for Nutrition Science (ASNS- formerly known as the AIN), and the Society for International Nutrition Research.  The result has been, as Dr. Russell tells us, “A much larger and truly interactive society, which has become the voice for nutrition science and research in this country, even in the world.”

As hard as it might be to believe, we are already into March of a new decade, and it has been a busy year thus far.  As April's Experimental Biology meeting approaches, Dr. Russell and the staff at ASN are hard at work preparing to welcome 4,000 of the top minds in clinical nutrition research from around the world.  Fortunately, Dr. Russell was able to take a few moments during this busy time to discuss his history with ASN and his goals for the future of the organization.
Interviewer: What aspects of ASN membership have you found most helpful in your career?

Dr. Russell: For my career, it has really been the scientific relationships that get established through the organization. Over the many years, getting to present my research and having the opportunity to hear the work of other scientists who are familiar and knowledgeable in the field has been invaluable.  You get the opportunity for so much great interaction with other scientists.  The collaborations that are built up through the years really help facilitate multi-institutional studies, which makes research much stronger.
Interviewer: Tell us a bit about your path to the ASN presidency. What made you decide to accept the position?

Dr. Russell: I had held a number of positions within the organization over many years.  Several years ago, I was the president of ASCN.  So one of the reasons I agreed to be nominated for the presidency of ASN is, I think, this joining together of the three societies, which made the new organization an extremely vital and influential voice for nutrition science.  It's exciting that we are all speaking with one voice now.  

As an overall society, one of the things that attracted me a great deal was that we are very important advocates for government and industry funding for nutrition research.  This is so important for global health.  Most of our chronic diseases and many infections have a nutritional basis or underpinning whether we are talking about diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.  If we can understand the mechanisms of how nutrition is related and how to apply our research findings, I believe it will go a long way towards improving the overall health and well-being of people throughout the world.  Our purpose is really the creation of new knowledge and the interpretation and dissemination of that knowledge.  Being a single entity has made the Society much more effective in achieving our goals.

Interviewer: What are your goals for the presidency? What initiatives are you most excited about?

Dr. Russell: Well, one goal certainly is improved communication to the media.  We do great communication through the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the Journal of Nutrition, which are the top-ranked nutrition journals in the world.  We also provide education and communication for government agencies and policy makers.  To a certain degree, we have begun to work with the media in order to reach the general population with reliable nutrition research information.  There's a lot of confusion in the public regarding many conflicting or seemingly conflicting studies, and we can help to interpret these studies and put them in the greater context of what's gone before. Over the next several years we will be developing several new initiatives centered on nutrition education that will help us to determine the best strategies for communicating public health messages with regard to nutrition and exercise.

Another goal is to create more opportunities for young scientists to participate in the various aspects of the Society and to provide them a chance to rise within the organization and to take on new responsibilities. 

I'd also like to see us create more partnerships with other medical societies and other nutrition societies throughout the world.  For example, we will do some joint projects and meetings this year with the British Nutritional Society and we are planning to do some joint projects with the Korean Nutritional Society.  We have a lot of outreach going on in China, which is now running into many of the same chronic diseases and nutritional problems that we face in America. 

One of the initiatives I am most excited about is the creation of a Foundation of the American Society for Nutrition with Past President Dr. Jim Hill.  The ASN Foundation will allow donations from individuals or organizations to support nutrition research.  What I am particularly interested in is the use of some of those funds to aid young nutrition researchers, to help them get some baseline information, which can then be leveraged to put them in the running for larger federal grants.

Interviewer: Can you give us a preview of the Presidential session on Nuclear Receptors as Metabolic Sensors for Nutrients and Metabolism at EB 2010?

Dr. Russell: This year the symposium presentation will be focused on how transcription factors, e.g. nuclear receptors, act as metabolic sensors for nutrients in the diet and for metabolites, which are produced through exercise and other activities.  This allows for adaptive changes in gene expression that comes from the sensing of the environment, which in turn can lead to metabolic controls in the body.  So, we want to present the science on that, as well as look forward toward where the research is going.  Once we understand these things, it may be very helpful in the prophylaxis of chronic disease states and obesity.  It's exciting work, and we have a great group of scientists who will be speaking on this at Experimental Biology.

Interviewer: What else would you like ASN members to know about you, your experience with ASN, or their organization?

Dr Russell: From my experience, ASN is the most satisfying of all the organizations I've ever participated in.  We truly believe in the health benefits of good nutrition, and that is what we are working to define for all populations. The opportunities are limitless.