The Institute Of Human Nutrition

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Nutritional and Metabolic Biology PhD Program Alumni

Career Paths and Profiles

NMB Graduates from 2013-2016 include:


    Lisa Burnett, PhD (‘16) is a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University Medical Center. Her thesis: ‘‘The Role of SNORD116 in Prader-Willi Syndrome’’, was sponsored by mentor Rudolph Leibel, MD.




     Giselle Dominguez Gutierrez, PhD (‘16) is a postdoctoral fellow at Regeneron. She completed her thesis: ‘‘Maintenance of beta cell identity and function’’, under the guidance of mentor Lori Sussel,PhD.




   Jaclyn Lerea, PhD (‘16) is a postdoctoral fellow of Nutrition Translation at Nestle Health Science. Her thesis ‘‘Early intervention in a mouse model of childhood’’ was supervised by Lori Zeltser, PhD.





    Yuxi Lin, PhD (‘16) is a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF-Mission Bay. Her thesis: ‘‘Role of lysosomes in nonshivering thermogenesis’’; was done under the guidance of Anthony Ferrante MD, PhD.





Hye Rim Chang, PhD (’15) is a postdoctoral fellow at NYU Langone Medical Center. Her thesis was “The Regulations of Adipose Tissue Development and Lipolysis” in mentor Anthony Ferrante, MD, PhD’s lab.




Dianne Dapito, PhD (’15) Dr. Dapito is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health in Eth, Zurich, working on cachexia, an irrevsible wasting syndrome often seen in cancer patients. Her thesis “Contributions of activated hepatic stellate cells to hepatocarcinogenesis” was completed in mentor Robert Schwabe, MD’s lab.  Diane was the recipient of the 2015 Bernard Erlanger Award for Excellence in Research for her research that culminated in her PhD thesis “Contributions of Activated Hepatic Stellate Cells to Hepatocarcinogenesis.” 




Ambar Grijalva, PhD (’15) Dr. Grijalva is a postdoctoral research scientist at CUMC. Her thesis “Understanding the function and diffentation of adipose tissue macrophage” was completed in mentor Anthony Ferrante, Jr., MD, PhD’s lab.




Ryo Higuchi-Sanabria, PhD (‘15), His thesis “A Mother's Sacrifice: the contribution of asymmetric cell division to lifespan regulation in S. cervisiae” was completed under the mentorship of Liza Pon, PhD.  Dr. Higuchi-Sanabria is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California - Berkeley, working on identification of a novel cytoskeleton-specific stress response and its potential regulators. Dr. Higuchi -Sanabria was awarded a National Research Service Award by the NIH. 





Moneek Madra, PhD (’15) Dr. Madra is a lecturer in the Institute of Human Nutrition, teaching Growth and Development and Introduction to Epidemiology for Nutritionists. Her thesis “Interactions of early life stressors and Bdnf Val66Met in a novel mouse model of Anorexia Nervosa” was completed in mentor Lori Zeltser, PhD’s lab. 

Her current research focuses on Anorexia Nervosa, specializing on neuroendocrine and early postnatal stress outcomes associated with adolescent abnormal feeding behavior. Her work encompasses several integrative areas including neuroscience, physiology and psychiatry. The IHN MS program was the catalyst for her interest in basic science research, through classes and her thesis project. The skills she amassed in the MS program have been invaluable to her research and educational pursuits.


Liheng Wang, PhD (’15) Dr. Wang is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Medicine at CUMC. Her thesis “Understanding the neuro-molecular physiology of human obesity using iPSC-derived hypothalamic neurons” was done in Rudolph Leibel, MD’s lab.




Angie Chi Nok Chong, PhD (’14) Dr. Chong’s thesis “The role of hypothalamic insulin and leptin signaling in regulating energy balance and stress” was done under the mentorship of Lori Zeltser, PhD.  She is a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Shuibing Chen's lab at Weill Cornell Medical College She is currently working on a project that models beta cell dysfunction in diabetes using humanized mouse models.




Donna Conlon, PhD (’14) Dr. Conlon is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. She is working in the laboratory of Dr. Daniel Rader studying novel pathways regulating lipid and lipoprotein metabolism and atherosclerosis inspired by unbiased studies of human genetics. Donna is currently working on two projects in the lab: 1) the regulation of VLDL secretion by hepatic Sortilin and 2) the role of neuronal Arv1, a sterol transporter, on behavior and lipid metabolism in the brain. She completed her thesis, “Inhibition of VLDL assembly by apolipoprotein B antisense oligonucleotides stimulates autophagy of ER, preventing steatosis” with mentor Henry Ginsberg, MD.



Chad Trent, PhD (’14) Dr. Trent is a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Martin Blaser's laboratory at NYU Langone Medical Center. His work is focused on the interactions between diet, genotype, and the microbiome that lead to dysregulation of metabolic and inflammatory phenotypes.  His thesis “Fat in Hearts: Uptake, storage, and turnover” was done in mentor Ira Goldberg, MD’s lab.




James Papizan, PhD (’13) Dr. Papizan is now a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Eric Olson's lab at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the Department of Molecular Biology. His thesis “Structure / function analysis of the essential islet regulatory factor Nkx2.2” was completed under the mentorship of Lori Sussel, PhD.  He received the 2012 Bernard Erlanger Award for Excellence in Research at the Wu Lecture and Retreat.





Katherine Wert, PhD (’13) Dr. Wert is a postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is currently working in Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch's laboratory on pluripotent stem cells and genome engineering to model human diseases. Her main research focus is incorporating human pluripotent stem cells into developing mouse embryos to study the iniation and progression of complex human diseases in an in vivo, interspecies chimeric system. Her thesis “Long-term gene therapy in a Pre-clinical Model of Retinitis Pigmentosa” was done with mentor Stephen Tsang, MD, PhD. She received the 2012 Bernard Erlanger Award for Excellence in Research at the Wu Lecture and Retreat. In 2016 Dr. Wert was awarded the Junior Faculty Award at the Annual FASEB meeting. 


Profiles of other NMB PhD program graduates include:


Mary Gamble, PhD (‘99), was recently awarded a five-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to Study Role of Folic Acid and Creatine in Lowering Blood Arsenic Levels. Dr. Gamble’s study, which will be conducted in Bangladesh, will explore folic acid and creatine as therapeutic approaches for lowering blood arsenic.

Dr. Gamble completed her MS and PhD degrees in the Institute of Human Nutrition and is an assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a member of the teaching faculty of the Institute of Human Nutrition. Her research represents a potentially promising area both for the field of nutrition and for the health of millions in the US and around the world.

Roughly 140 million people in over 70 countries are chronically exposed to hazardous concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic in drinking water. Arsenic, a carcinogen, has also been associated with cardiovascular and lung diseases. Naturally occurring arsenic-contamination of ground water currently used for drinking is also a problem in parts of the United States. Dr. Gamble’s research seeks to identify simple, low-cost, low-risk nutritional interventions that can reduce risk for arsenic-induced health outcomes. To this end, Dr. Gamble will build on her earlier research, which found, in people who are folate deficient, that folic acid supplementation facilitates the methylation and urinary elimination of arsenic, thereby significantly lowering blood arsenic concentrations. The new work will investigate the efficacy of folic acid supplementation in lowering blood arsenic in participants who are not necessarily folate deficient. Other goals are to determine the optimal dose and duration of treatment. Finally, the study will test the hypothesis that creatine supplementation, which downregulates endogenous creatine biosynthesis, will spare methyl groups, facilitate the methylation of other substrates, including arsenic – and thereby lower blood arsenic.

In 2008, Dr. Gamble received the Mailman School of Public Health’s Calderone Junior Faculty Prize for her research on nutritional therapies to lower blood arsenic levels. The annual prize is awarded in memory of Frank Calderone, a distinguished officer in the New York City Department of Health who also held significant posts in the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. Secretariat Health Service. It acknowledges the scientific merit and public health significance of the researcher’s project.

Mary Gamble's earlier work on retinoid metabolism included studies on proteins involved in retinoid transport and in the generation of transcriptionally active retinoic acid metabolites. Her international research began with studies on vitamin A deficiency in the Marshall Islands and Brazil. Her work in nutritional biochemistry is now focused primarily on folate-dependent one-carbon metabolism and nutrient/environment interactions.


Mary Matsui, PhD ('86) is currently the Executive Director of External Research at the Estee Lauder Companies. She functions as an academic/industry liaison, designing and supervising research, developing in vitro model systems for screening new materials, and collaborating with company and academic researchers to discover novel treatment approaches for various aspects of skin biology.  Dr. Matsui has extensive expertise in the effects of sunlight on the skin such as UV-induced immune suppression, DNA damage, and skin cancer. She is particularly fascinated by the use of botanical extracts to counteract the process of photoaging.  Dr. Matsui is also interested in disorders of pigmentation. She initiated and currently directs the DNA repair and pigmentation research at the Kobe Skin Research Institute in Kobe, Japan through collaboration with Doshisha University.  This group is working on several novel concepts and treatment options for hyperpigmentation. She often gives invited talks to diverse groups including the Japanese Society for Photoaging, The Chinese Academy of Dermatology, The American Academy of Dermatology, The International Pigment Cell Society, and the Society of Cosmetic Chemists.


Haruka Okamoto, MS ('99), PhD ('04) obtained her PhD at Columbia University in the Institute of Human Nutrition in 2004, and joined Regeneron Pharmaceuticals as a postdoctoral scientist. Her thesis "Genetic studies of insulin resistance" was completed in mentor Domenico Accili, MD's lab, as her research interest is on Type 2 Diabetes.  She is currently a Staff Scientist in Muscle and Metabolism Target Discovery at Regeneron.



Neil Paragas, PhD ('10) Dr. Paragas completed the NMB program with distinction, and was awarded the Dean's Award for Excellence in Research in 2011.  He completed his thesis "NTBI Pathways in the Kidney: NGAL Scavenges Iron to Defend the Urinary System from Infection" in Dr. Jonathan Barasch's lab, and holds a number of patents related to his thesis work.

He is an Assistant Professor of Research at University of Washington, and the co-founder of InVivo Analytics, an animal optical imaging innovation company that transforms current small animal optical imaging platforms into devices that can acquire quantitative 3D images. 


Kelly Ruggles, MS ('07), PhD ('12)  After graduating from the IHN's MS program, Kelly pursued her PhD in Nutritional and Metabolic Biology PhD program. She did her research under mentor Stephen Sturley, PhD, on " Cellular Fatty Acid Toxicity: Extrapolating Yeast Screens into Mammalian Models".  She is currently a research scientist and mathematical modeler in the Section on Value and Effectiveness (SOLVE), in the Department of Population Health at New York University's Langone Medical Center.


Susan Shapses, PhD ('88), RD is a Professor in Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University and the Director of the New Jersey Obesity Group. Her research focuses on how bone is regulated in obese women and during caloric restriction. A goal is to determine optimal diet regimens to minimize bone loss by examining nutrient absorption, body composition and the hormonal regulation of bone metabolism and quality.  Her work involves a collaborative effort from basic scientists and clinicians using a translational approach to study the causes, prevention and treatment of obesity and osteoporosis.

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MS Alumni Contact

Sharon Akabas, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Educational Initiative
Director, MS in Nutrition Program
(212) 305-4808

NMB Alumni Contact

Zamaly Diaz Lebron
Communications and Development Officer
(212) 305-4808


Contact Us

630 West 168th Street, PH1512
Columbia University Medical Center
New York, NY 10032
(212) 305-4808