Spring 2017

New Vice Provost for Research

A highly regarded nutrition scientist, Simin Meydani is an advocate for collaborations across disciplines.

By Julie Flaherty

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“In order to be able to make big strides and tackle key public health challenges, you need to bring different disciplines together,” said Simin Meydani. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Simin Nikbin Meydani, the former director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts and a scientist known for her groundbreaking work on nutrition and the immune system, is the university’s new vice provost for research.

She will be an advocate for researchers, scholars and students across the university; promote a culture of innovation and creativity; and identify research areas where Tufts can have the greatest impact, all while ensuring researchers work in a safe environment and observe all regulatory requirements.

Meydani, who will continue to lead the HNRCA immunology lab, is also a professor at the Friedman School and a professor of immunology at the School of Medicine. She has more than 300 publications to her name and has been the principal investigator or coinvestigator on research projects that have received more than $40 million in external funding. She is a former president of the American Society for Nutrition and of the American Aging Association and received their highest awards in recognition of the importance of her research findings.

“Working in silos will only get you so far.”

Meydani grew up in Iran, where she attended Tehran University and earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree. The D.V.M. studies “enabled me to see the connection between the different species and not be focused on one way of thinking, to be able to see the commonalities and also the differences,” she said.

She and her husband, Mohsen Meydani, continued their studies in the United States, both earning doctorates in nutrition from Iowa State University. She joined the HNRCA in 1984 and began researching the effects of nutrients on aging, immunity and infection. In studies that are considered seminal, her HNRCA lab was one of the first to conduct well-controlled trials that demonstrated how important nutrition is to a well-functioning immune system.

In her new job, Meydani wants to continue fostering collaborative work by researchers across the university. “Working in silos will only get you so far,” she said. “In order to be able to make big strides and tackle key public health challenges, you need to bring different disciplines together.” That underpins a main tenet of Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco’s research agenda for the university—bring together the best minds in multiple fields to engage in science for social good.

From her experience creating cross-lab research clusters at the HNRCA—focused on cancer or cardiovascular disease, for example—she acknowledges that this is not an easy task. “Everyone says, ‘Yes, we’ll do it.’ But it requires time, effort and support to make sure the ideas that are generated from the bottom up become successful initiatives.”

As for the challenge of growing Tufts’ research enterprise in a difficult funding climate, she is unbowed. She intends to help Tufts increase the funding it receives from corporations and foundations, create synergies among different disciplines and become more creative in making strategic alliances with other nonprofit and for-profit institutions. “That will help Tufts become more competitive in seeking federal funding,” she said.

Contact Julie Flaherty at julie.flaherty@tufts.edu.

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