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
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
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
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
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
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
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