American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Steven Schwartz

Interview with Dr. Steven Schwartz

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation with 2013 Gil Leveille Lectureship & Award Winner Steven Schwartz, PhD

We are pleased to introduce the winner of the 2013 Gilbert A. Leveille Lectureship and Award Winner, Dr. Steven Schwartz of Ohio State University's Department of Food Science & Technology. Dr. Schwartz has enabled major advances in nutrition science and food technology through his leadership of Ohio State's Center for Advanced Functional Foods Research and Entrepreneurship (CAFFRE) and more recently the Food Innovation Center (FIC). He is also a highly respected mentor of future leaders in nutrition. This award, along with many others, will be presented April 21 at the 2013 Awards Ceremony during ASN's Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting.   

In this interview, Schwartz offers his thoughts on the advances and challenges facing food technology and nutrition research. He also shares his current research interests, the sessions and topics he looks forward to at this year's annual meeting, and insights from his time as an ASN member.

Interviewer: What do you see as the most promising recent advances in nutrition science and food technology?

Dr. Schwartz: The most promising area where these two fields overlap is functional foods.  Food technology is essential to develop, process, and package these foods, while nutrition science determines the impact of functional food on specific diseases.

Interviewer: What do you see as the biggest challenges currently facing nutrition researchers?

Dr. Schwartz: The biggest challenge for any kind of research, not just nutrition research, has to be funding. That is the most pressing question for scientists, particularly in academia.  I am particularly concerned about the challenges our younger faculty face to gain support for both nutrition science and food technology programs.

Interviewer: How can ASN as an organization or interested ASN members help confront these challenges?

Dr. Schwartz: ASN already does a wonderful job in terms of informing legislators of our research needs, while also providing opportunities for scientists who wish to become more knowledgeable about public policy.  Another potential option, one my wife took advantage of, was working as a Congressional fellow.  She served as staff member in the Senate, which gave her the opportunity to shape policy from inside the legislative branch.  I think that no matter the avenue, nutrition researchers interested in public policy can significantly improve funding opportunities in our field. Visit ASN's Public Policy webpage for more information on our activities.

Interviewer: What are some of your current research interests?

Dr. Schwartz: We are interested in functional foods, and, as someone with a chemistry background, I'm interested in bioactive compounds.  We also focus on bioavailability and metabolism of particular compounds in foods that may have a nutritional role or disease prevention activity.  We have been working with carotenoid compounds for more than 20 years, but we have expanded to other elements in foods and other bioactive compounds, including flavonoids, isoflavones and isothiocyanates. Through our collaborative clinical work with OSU's Medical School and Comprehensive Cancer Center, we hope to better understand the bioactivity of these functional foods and use this knowledge to shape medical interventions.  More specifically, my laboratory is now involved in targeted metabolomics and metabolic profiling to maximize the potential of these interventions.   

Interviewer: What sessions, topics, or events are you looking forward to at this year's annual meeting?

Dr. Schwartz: It looks like an incredible meeting, and, as always, there are so many sessions I'd like to attend.  As you might guess, anything related to carotenoids will be first on my list.  So of course I'll be attending the Carotenoids Research Interaction Group (CARIG) annual meeting held on Friday 1-5 and followed by sessions on Carotenoids and Health, Carotenoids and Retinoids: Molecular Mechanisms of Action, Bioavailability and Metabolism of Carotenoids and Vitamin A, Carotenoids: Eye and Brain Health, and Biofortification of Staple Crops with Micronutrients.

I also hope to attend Managing the Microbiome in Human Gastrointestinal Disease, which is being chaired by Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, Dr. Gordon Jensen, and Dr. Thomas Ziegler.  It should be very relevant to our interests in metabolic profiling and targeted metabolomics.  There is another session, Lipidomics Technologies at the Beginning of the Next Decade, chaired by Dr. Alfred Merrill Jr., as well as the session specifically on Metabolomics, Nutrition and Metabolic Disorders, which is being chaired by Dr. Naima Moustaid-Moussa. There are so many I'm seeing here! It's going to be a great meeting.

Interviewer: How did you first get interested in nutrition research?

Dr. Schwartz: Well, that's kind of a story for me! I started out as a student of synthetic organic chemistry.  From there, I gravitated towards natural product chemistry and, when I went to graduate school, I became interested in plant pigments as natural products.  I started to study these naturally occurring pigments for use as food colorants, as an alternative to the synthetic products that had been found to be potentially carcinogenic.  As a graduate student in food science, I did a joint PhD program in toxicology.  I was then very fortunate to work with a number of talented researchers to determine whether those naturally occurring pigments might also have carcinogenic activity.  When I graduated, I started on the faculty at North Carolina State University and continued working on plant pigments.  It was then that I started my work with the carotenoid compounds, pro-Vitamin A nutrients, and anti-cancer activity.  So that is where I moved to the intersection between nutrition and food chemistry.

Interviewer: Where during that journey did you come across ASN and what aspects of membership have been most helpful to your career?

Dr. Schwartz: It was a natural gravitation as part of my work with carotenoids, especially after I became involved in the CARIG meetings at Experimental Biology, which were led by Professors Jim Olson and Norman Krinsky.  I was so inspired by their work and insight, and I began attending all of the EB meetings. Early in my career, I also started advising nutrition PhD students, which made joining ASN a natural choice for me to help them.

EB remains the most exciting meeting in the field; I look forward to it every year, as do all of my graduate students. ASN, through EB and its other meetings, provides a wonderful opportunity to make connections and improve cross-collaboration between nutrition and food scientists, biochemists, and other fields. I have a great colleague here at OSU, Steven Clinton, MD, PhD, whom I first met at Experimental Biology, and we have been collaborating ever since.

March 2013