Nutrition and Wellness Research Center symposium to address vaccines, immunity

AMES, Iowa -- This week's fear over a possible swine flu epidemic has made the world focus on vaccines and immunity. And new research frontiers in vaccines and the immune system will also be the focus of the third annual symposium by Iowa State University's Nutrition and Wellness Research Center (NWRC).

The symposium, "Vaccines, Immunity and Well-Being," is Monday-Tuesday, May 18-19, at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center, U.S. Highway 30 and University Boulevard, Ames. Also sponsored by Iowa State's Office of Biotechnology, Plant Sciences Institute and Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., the event will explore the role of biotechnology in vaccine design, the effect of nutrition on immunity, and how physical exercise and psychosocial behaviors impact vaccine effectiveness.

"New approaches and technologies are being developed to extend protection beyond traditional vaccines," said Suzanne Hendrich, an ISU professor of food science and human nutrition (FSHN) and one of the symposium organizers. "Speakers at the symposium will address issues related to biotechnology strategies in vaccine development, such as DNA-based vaccines; the impact of nutrition on vaccine effectiveness, especially in the elderly; and the effects of behavioral factors at the cellular and molecular levels."

Because of the current swine flu outbreak, Marian Kohut, an associate professor of kinesiology who is co-chair of the symposium committee, expects influenza to become a popular topic of discussion.

Symposium details and registration information are available at:, or by contacting Kohut at (515) 294-8364, or The registration deadline is Monday, May 4.

NWRC researchers to be featured

The symposium will feature some researchers from the Nutrition and Wellness Research Center ( The facility was created nearly two years ago to work in partnership with food and health-related industries to enhance human wellness through research and educational activities that explore dietary intake, physical activity and health-related behaviors as they influence disease risk.

"Since we opened, some of the highlights would be the new faculty that have been recruited to work on objectives in this building, the new projects that we have because of opening this building, and the visibility that this building has given us," said Diane Birt, ISU distinguished professor of FSHN and interim director of the center. "We've had an increase in the number of research contracts since it's opened."

The NWRC is the state's first facility focused on testing foods and food-related products for their impact on human wellness and prevention of chronic diseases. Some of its current projects include:

  • Research by Donald Beitz, Distinguished Professor of animal science; and Gaowei Mao, a master's student, found that a novel antioxidant (Mitovitamin E, a compound synthesized by George Kraus, University Professor of chemistry) may reduce the development of obesity by regulating appetite.
  • A six-month clinical study with Embria Health Sciences -- an Ankeny-based nutritional supplement manufacturer -- on its immune-system-boosting supplement, Epicor. Two ISU professors recruited 12 non-athletic subjects to participate in strenuous exercise to determine whether the supplement helps their bodies recover more quickly.
  • Research by Birt, Hendrich and Jay-Lin Jane, professor of FSHN, assessing the impact of slow sugar-release/digestion-resistant corn starches (resistant starches) on the mechanisms of colon cancer prevention.
  • Research by Hendrich; Pamela White, University Professor of FSHN and dean of the College of Human Sciences; and Linda Pollak, associate professor of agronomy, evaluating interactions between resistant starches and human gut bacteria that may combat obesity, type-2 diabetes and related diseases.
  • Research by Ruth MacDonald, professor and chair of FSHN; Joe Przybyszewski, an assistant scientist in FSHN; and researcher Eric Weaver, chief scientific officer at Proliant, Inc., that is studying dietary immunoglobins' protection of the colon against chemically-induced damage of human inflammatory bowel disease, as evidenced by reduced biomarkers associated with inflammation and colon cancer risk.

"We're particularly interested in putting solid scientific investigation behind health claims and products and services," Birt said. "All too often, we're confronted with conflicting reports on health claims and it's important that we have solid and reliable information on these matters."