Indian American receives award from National Institutes of Health

Jaapna Dhillon (Courtesy: ResearchGate)

Jaapna Dhillon is University of California, Merced’s first postdoctoral researcher to receive a Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


According to a press release, Dhillon will receive one to two years of K99 funding at UC Merced, followed by up to three years of R00 funding once she lands a tenure-track faculty position.


Dhillon earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition Science from Purdue University and is currently a researcher in the university’s School of Natural Sciences in Professor Rudy Ortiz’s lab, where she and others have been looking at the effects of almond consumption on health and pre-ingestive controls of nutrition.


Prior to this, she had completed her Bachelor’s in bioinformatics in India and was working at a software company for two years.


She then got interested in fitness and nutrition and became a certified fitness trainer, came to the U.S. and earned a Master’s in Nutrition at Syracuse University.


After that Dhillon focused on clinical nutrition at Purdue and her dissertation looked into the benefits of almond consumption on human health, setting her up for the research she is doing now, according to a press release.


While working on her Ph.D., Dhillon met Ortiz and the two discussed the prospects of a pending grant with the Almond Board of California to study the effects of almonds on substrate metabolism and gut microbiome.


Dhillon ended up joining Ortiz’s lab in fall 2016 and in spring 2017, led an eight-week almond intervention with undergraduate participants, from which the first manuscript was recently published in the journal Nutrients.


Dhillon’s K99 funding will allow her to perform nutritional metabolomics and develop a model to predict the effects of almond consumption on metabolic factors that she can test in a small subset of first-year students.


“I focused my proposal on minority populations because they are at a higher risk for metabolic disorders. Standardized nutrition guidelines are too broad; one size doesn’t fit all. We need to look at a personalized approach to nutrition taking into account people’s current health statuses — like glucose levels and metabolic risks,” Dhillon is quoted saying in a press release.


Dhillon will continue to analyze the data and get more training to investigate whether minority individuals respond better to a functional food diet that includes fruits, nuts and vegetables.



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