Dr. John Suttie knows something about being a pioneer. When he began investigating the workings of Vitamin K in the 1960s, very little was known about its effects. Through his research, Dr. Suttie was able to explain Vitamin K's operation as a cofactor in glutamate carboxylation in prothrombin.
Dr. Suttie chaired the Department of Nutrition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for many years. He now serves there as a Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry. He is also the author of Vitamin K in Health and Disease (Oxidative Stress and Disease).
In addition to these pursuits, Dr. Suttie has recently taken on a role that will see him once again leading the way in nutrition science- working as the first editor of ASN's latest publication, Advances in Nutrition. Dr. Suttie was kind enough to talk with us about what members can expect from the new publication and to offer up experience gleaned from his years of study in nutrition and biochemistry.
Interviewer: Tell us a bit about your work as editor of Advances in Nutrition. How will the content of this publication differ from others that ASN offers?
Dr. Suttie: The society decided that they were interested in a journal that would primarily publish reviews, which is a major change from what they have been doing. Most of the publications that ASN puts out are focused on research reports. Although JN and AJCN publish some reviews, they do not publish a large number of them. So, it's that focus that really makes Advances in Nutrition unique.
Interviewer: What are some of the highlights of the first issue that you think would be most interesting to the membership?
Dr. Suttie: The first issue will have five reviews that cover a wide range of subjects, as nutrition research is quite a broad area. It should be an excellent indication of the types of reviews we will publish in the future. In the first issue, one of the reviews will be a clinical, nutrition-focused review on the impact of N3 fatty acids on Type 2 Diabetes. There will also be one that touches on the connections between nutrients and epigenetics. There's another dealing with functional amino acids and the processes with which they are involved in metabolism. Additionally, there will be a review focused on weight management, specifically on how chickpeas, lentils, and other dried legumes may aid weight management. Finally, it includes a review that focuses on iron homeostasis and hepcidin.
Interviewer: Could you give us a preview of upcoming issues?
Dr. Suttie: The next issue that will come out will be similar in that it will cover a wide variety of issues in nutrition research. That one will be out in January 2011. The issue that then comes out in March is one that will focus primarily on mineral metabolism. Although there may be some other reviews, there will be between six and eight that center on that theme. The theme-focused issue is certainly something members should look forward to from Advances in Nutrition in the future. We will be working with the heads of the Research Interest Sections to put together issues that will have between six and 10 reviews focused on their area of expertise.
Interviewer: You are quite a leader in Vitamin K research and biochemistry. Could you tell us about how your research in the field has developed over the years? What current advances are you most excited about in relation to your research interests?
Dr. Suttie: I started investigating Vitamin K a long time ago, in the early 1960s. At that time, what was known was that Vitamin K was somehow involved in a number of proteins needed to coagulate blood. In fact, that is about all that was known. I got started in the field to determine what it is that Vitamin K is doing. Although we knew it was required, there was no idea what it was required for. It turns out the Vitamin was acting to work as a substrate for an enzyme that modifies proteins after they are first synthesized by altering specific glutamic acid residue to gamma-carboxy glutamic acid residues which changes the activity of prothrombin and other clotting factors. This was the area in which I was most heavily involved. In later years, I got a bit more involved in the nutrition end, studying whether increasing Vitamin K intake could solve certain health problems. There was a lot of interest at one time in the role of Vitamin K in skeletal health. It turns out that it is unlikely that many people are not getting sufficient Vitamin K for that purpose, but there are other potential areas of concern. For example, there is one Vitamin K-dependent protein that appears to prevent calcification in the vascular system. There are other proteins that are dependent on Vitamin K, but we are not sure if we have a complete understanding of what they are doing metabolically.
Interviewer: How did you initially get involved in nutrition and with ASN?
Dr. Suttie: I am in a biochemistry department, and the department at the University of Wisconsin always had a reputation for its focus on nutrition. If you go back 50 or 60 years, there were a lot of departments that had that kind of focus, but not with the same kind of reputation that there is here. I originally joined ASN because both nutritional scientists and biochemists attended the yearly Experimental Biology meeting (home to ASN's Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting).
Interviewer: What aspect of your involvement with the organization has been most helpful to you professionally?
Dr. Suttie: ASN does a good job of helping people get together. I think that the annual meetings are so important in that aspect. It's always good to see what other people are doing in the wide area of nutritional science. The organization has also shown an ability to interact with other groups and to push for changes that are good for the field. It's difficult for any one society to have a major impact, and ASN has always been willing to get different groups to get together and have that kind of impact, giving us a chance of being heard and influencing important policy changes.