Winter 2015

Science That Takes the Long View

Carlota Dao, N10, N13, is on the trail of obesity and its costs to good health

By Kathy Hubbard

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Alumna Carlota Dao is conducting research on gut microbiota and its association with obesity. Photo: Antoine Doyen

Who am I helping?

Sitting at a lab table, her face pressed against a microscope, Carlota Dao, N10, N13, asks herself this question quite often. “As a scientist, it’s easy to stay focused on the immediate world,” Dao says, “but I kept asking myself why this research mattered. Who’s in the bigger picture?”

Dao’s focus is the medical effects of obesity. Her desire to couple her interest in biochemistry with a study of its broader implications brought her to the Friedman School. As the recipient of the Stanley N. Gershoff Scholarship, Dao has had her tuition and fees covered, and she received a stipend. She also received a seat on the student-led planning committee of the annual Gershoff Symposium, which brings together experts in the biological and social sciences to debate nutrition policy issues. Dao was humbled to receive such an honor. “I had this awesome privilege of planning the symposium along with the other committee members,” she says. “It was invaluable exposure to the field of nutrition.”

“I really can’t quantify everything I learned from the [Friedman School] faculty and my classmates.” —Carlota Dao

While at Friedman, Dao also won the Stanley N. Gershoff, Simon J. Simonian and Arpi A. Simonian Prize for Research Excellence in Nutrition Science and Policy for her work on her thesis about iron deficiency as a consequence of obesity. In the lab of Professor Simin Nikbin Meydani, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, Dao worked on a clinical study comparing the iron levels of two groups of pregnant women, one obese and one lean, and their infants. The study found that regardless of the mother’s iron level, the babies of the obese mothers had lower iron levels than the infants of the lean mothers.

Having completed her Ph.D., Dao is now dividing her time between the Institute of Cardiometabolism and Nutrition (ICAN), a research institute in Paris that focuses on nutrition and health, and Danone, best known in the U.S. for Dannon yogurt products. “ICAN and Danone share the goal of enhancing nutrition in the populations that they target and are at the forefront of an important push to train people to serve as ambassadors between academia and industry,” she says.

Dao’s research focuses on gut microbiota and its association with obesity and obesity-related diseases. “I really can’t quantify everything I learned from the [Friedman School] faculty and my classmates. I think about them daily and silently thank them for teaching me so much.”

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