American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. E. Mitchell Seymour, ASN Member and Blogger

Interview with Dr. E. Mitchell Seymour, ASN Member and Blogger

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation With Dr. E. Mitchell Seymour of the University of Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research

Dr. E. Mitchell Seymour did not follow a conventional path on his way to becoming a highly respected nutrition researcher, as his undergraduate degree was not in the field. Instead, it was his election as student Food, Alcohol, and Health Commissioner at the University of Notre Dame that sparked his interest. In that position, he worked with the university's food service and its head dietician to select healthy choices for campus menus. After taking a few nutrition courses to help him in his role as commissioner, he knew he had found his calling.

After returning to Michigan, Dr. Seymour took a capstone research course on nutrition science at Michigan State, and subsequently enrolled in graduate school there. It was his graduate faculty that introduced him to ASN. Many were active members who attended ASN's Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology regularly. On their recommendation, Dr. Seymour did the same--joining the organization and attending his first EB meeting in 1997.

Now, Dr. Seymour's path has led him to his current position at the University of Michigan's Cardioprotection Research Laboratory, where he works as a lab manager for Dr. Steven F. Bolling. Dr. Seymour was recently kind enough to take time to tell us a bit about their latest findings and to discuss the ways in which ASN has influenced his unique journey as a nutrition researcher.
Interviewer: What is it that you find most helpful about ASN membership?
Dr. Seymour: For me, it is the access to information, and the access to the Research Interest Sections (RIS) in particular. Within those groups you get to know who the thought leaders are in your area of interest, which leads you to pay more attention to the publications and the projects they are working on.  That provides guidance for your own career path, which is very important.
Interviewer: As a researcher, what aspects of ASN's Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology (EB) meeting do you find most exciting?
Dr. Seymour: The special interest poster sessions, because they allow you to interact with those thought leaders I mentioned.  They come to the poster sessions, and ask very thoughtful, sometimes very probing questions that have the potential to significantly alter your experiments.  The ASN business meetings are also very useful because they give you an idea of what is going on at the leadership level within ASN.

Interviewer: And what are you looking forward to most about this year's meeting?
Dr. Seymour: The Dietary Bioactives sessions are always my favorite, since that is my area of interest. I'm also interested to hear some of the discussions regarding whole foods versus nutritional supplements for affecting health and disease as well as the effects of fruit- and vegetable-rich diets.
Interviewer: Could you tell us about your own research with the cardio protection research laboratory?
Dr. Seymour: Our lab is split into two sections. On one hand, we have basic science and cardiac pathology investigations that we conduct in animal models. On the other, we have the clinical studies that work with patients with hypertension and heart failure or those who may be at risk for heart failure. 
In the lab, we study animals who have hypertension and who are either obese or lean and some of them may be prone to heart failure or stroke.  We use whole food models, and currently we are looking at the effects of different fruits--such as apples, grapes, cherries, and blueberries--to study their effect on the trajectory of cardiac dysfunction that occurs after long-term hypertension.  We are very interested in the specific changes in the heart as well as genetic changes that are associated with the diet.  There is a lot of controversy right now around bioavailability--can these phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables have an effect if we do not find measurable amounts in the tissue, or if those levels are very low? We think that the answer to that question is, “Yes, you can have an effect with low levels of these compounds.”
In the clinical studies we have two different investigations. One, a double-blind crossover study that just started, is looking at the effects of grapeseed extract versus placebo in heart failure patients, measuring different cardiac parameters over the course of six weeks.  We are also conducting baseline and follow up dietary assessments in these subjects to ensure that they are not altering their diet as part of the trial.
The other study, which is on its way to completion, is the DASH Heart Failure Study, which includes a three-week intervention with a DASH-style diet. We are providing the diet for these subjects and studying differences between baseline blood pressure and endpoint blood pressure, kidney function, cardiac function, vascular function, antioxidant capacity, and the changes in phytochemical intake.  It is amazing that this short intervention has shown a significant reduction in blood pressure and an improvement in other markers.  This was meant to be a pilot study to determine if we can lower blood pressure with this type of diet.  What we are now going to do is follow up to determine if patients can sustain this diet and determine ways that we can help them achieve that goal. 
Interviewer: Is there anything else that you would like ASN members to know?
I really encourage them to check out ASN's Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology. I have been going every year since 1997, and the opportunities that it provides for information and networking are truly unparalleled. I also encourage them to be active in the organization's special interest groups because of the networking and mentoring opportunities that doing so has offered for me, personally; I hope that it will provide them with the same benefits.
February 2011