American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Thomas Ziegler, Past Chair of the Medical Nutrition Council

Interview with Dr. Thomas Ziegler, Past Chair of the Medical Nutrition Council

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice

Interviewer: How did you get involved initially with ASN?

Dr. Ziegler: I became a member of the then American Society for Clinical Nutrition (ASCN) as an undergraduate nutrition major at Michigan State in the late 1970s and I have maintained my membership through the years, including my present involvement with the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).

Interviewer: What got you interested during your career as an undergraduate?

Dr. Ziegler: I was initially interested in being a physician and nutrition seemed like an interesting major that had all the necessary prerequisites for medical school.

Interviewer: When did you become a member, and Chair, of the Medical Nutrition Council and what influenced your decision to do so?

Dr. Ziegler: I've always been interested in the role of nutrition in medicine.  Even as an undergraduate we had required reading of papers that were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) regarding the high incidence and prevalence of malnutrition in hospital patients and that interest carried through medical school and residency.  I completed a fellowship at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in nutrition support research and clinical care and which further stimulated my interest in the role of nutrition in medicine.  The Medical Nutrition Council is an outgrowth of the original American Society for Clinical Nutrition and has focused mainly on medical nutrition issues, so as a physician I am very interested in the missions of this ASN Council.

Interviewer: How has being involved in the council and with ASN in general enriched your professional and academic life?

Dr. Ziegler: I've really enjoyed my various roles at ASN, including being a part of ASCN as it has evolved into ASN about three years ago.  I have enjoyed the professional camaraderie with other like-minded physicians and clinical-translational investigators who are dedicated to nutrition science and improving patient care.  I have also gained a great deal from the educational offerings at the annual meeting and at other venues that ASN puts on.  I've certainly enjoyed being involved in national committee work through ASN.  Being involved in national committees like the MNC is an important activity for faculty in academic medicine.  The society is also wonderful at advocating for more funding for nutrition research for investigators like myself, and, that, of course, is beneficial to our careers.  In general, ASN really stimulates interest in the field of clinical and translational nutrition, which is great for medicine in general and ultimately for patients with nutrition-related disorders.

Interviewer: What strategies does the MNC use to help translate research advances into clinical practice?

Dr. Ziegler: That is an area that the MNC would like to get more directly involved in.  We serve as focal point for nutrition-oriented investigators to meet and communicate through ASN avenues, including at the annual Experimental Biology meeting, through our newsletter and via ASN/MNC-sponsored award programs for Physician Nutrition Specialists and medical students. We are also planning to mount ASN/MNC-organized satellite meetings with other academic societies that are interested in nutrition science and clinical care. These activities help to stimulate academic camaraderie and collaboration.

Interviewer: What specific areas of research do you think might have a significant impact on clinical practice in the future?

Dr. Ziegler: Without citing any particular study or research area, I think that the whole range of clinical, translational and epidemiologic studies in human nutrition that ASN members participate is advancing knowledge on the role of diet, foods, and nutrition in human health and disease.  The collective efforts of our members' research activities, whether they are in the animal lab, in the hospital setting, or in the global health arena together help translate nutrition-oriented research into clinical practice and patient care.

Interviewer: How has working at a CTSA institution influenced your work?

Dr. Ziegler: The Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program is an approximately three-year-old initiative developed by NIH to foster clinical and translational research, with the main goal of facilitating translation of discoveries in the academic arena into community-based therapies that impact the health of Americans.  The CTSA program grew out of the General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) program.  CTSAs have a mandate to provide robust training activities for predoctoral, postdoctoral, and junior faculty trainees in clinical translational research, and provide infrastructure support, similar to the former GCRC system, on the conduct of clinical research.  CTSAs also have biostatistic and bioinformatic resources.  They offer translational technologies support and ethical and regulatory support, among other resources, and pilot and feasibility grants for junior investigators.  All CTSAs have a nutrition research component in one form or another and most have at least one research dietitian.  Some CTSAs support a larger cadre of research nutritionists and other infrastructure to foster clinical- and translational-oriented nutrition research in the academic medical center community and in international settings. NIH is strongly encouraging CTSAs to participate in multi-center translational collaborations.  I think that our field of nutrition science is ideally suited for such collaborations. Our field is multidisciplinary and integrative in nature, and ASN, as the strongest academic nutrition society, can foster collaborative connections between CTSA investigators.  Our field is ideally suited to the mission of the CTSAs, namely to enhance multidisciplinary research that is geared towards translating discoveries into communities and patient populations.