Sherrie Negrea
In College of Human Ecology, Division of Nutritional Sciences
Group photo of the attendees at the intercampus symposium on metabolic health
Sheryl Sinkow

Nearly 100 faculty members, graduate and postdoctoral trainees and staff from Cornell's Ithaca Campus and Weill Cornell Medical College gathered for an intercampus symposium on metabolic health.

Diabetes, obesity, and metabolic diseases are complex health problems and important threats to human health. Ensuring optimal metabolic health requires multidisciplinary solutions.

On Sept. 11 and 12, a cross-campus symposium brought together nearly 100 Cornell researchers from the Ithaca Campus and the Weill Cornell Medicine Campus in New York City to catalyze the kind of interdisciplinary collaborations necessary to address this growing health challenge. 

The symposium, titled Metabolic Health: From Molecules to Populations, focused on three topics: diabetes at the molecular and cellular level, obesity and the biology of fat cells, and population-level obesity interventions. It included sessions where faculty and post-doctoral associates presented their research, poster sessions and networking time for trainees, and breakout sessions for groups working on each topic. The meeting was funded by a grant from the Office for Academic Integration and supported by the Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS), the Center for Precision Nutrition for Health (CPNH) and the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Center for Metabolic Health.

Symposium co-chairs were Dr. Laura Alonso, the E. Hugh Luckey Distinguished Professor of Medicine and chief of the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Julia Finkelstein, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition in DNS, which is housed jointly in Cornell Human Ecology and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “This symposium provided an opportunity to bring together experts from across the disciplines and across the Cornell campuses, to advance our fundamental understanding of metabolic diseases and develop multidisciplinary solutions to improve human health,” said Finkelstein. 

The concept of food as medicine was a common thread across the discussions — and the topic of the keynote speech from Christopher Lynch, the acting director of the Office of Nutrition Research (ONR) at the National Institutes of Health. There is growing emphasis on understanding role of nutrition in health and disease at the NIH; the agency established ONR, reporting to the director’s office, in 2021. 

“Nutrition is a critical contributor to human health, but it is underutilized as a tool to help people live healthy lives,” Alonso said.

Alonso is the director of the Weill Center for Metabolic Health, which launched in 2021 with the goal of better understanding the biological underpinning of diabetes, obesity and metabolic disease, and then translating those discoveries into therapeutic approaches.

On the Ithaca campus, the CPNH in the College of Human Ecology, formed in 2022, is integrating precision nutrition, artificial intelligence and technology to improve population health.

Developing joint research projects on metabolic health that would make Cornell a national leader in the field was one of the goals of the symposium. 

“This symposium was incredibly important to help us learn about the different types of expertise and tools across Cornell campuses, which makes a very fertile ground for pushing science in new directions,” Alonso said. “We can put our resources together and tackle different problems than neither of us can tackle individually.”

By the end of the two days, several faculty members were already planning joint research projects across the two campuses, and organizers announced that they plan to hold a second symposium in two years.

“For next steps, we plan to establish a metabolic health working group and build a team including investigators across all our campuses to submit competitive proposals in this space,” said Dr. Saurabh Mehta, the Janet and Gordon Lankton Professor of Public Health and Nutrition and founding co-director of the CPNH.

“It is exciting to bring together our community, and to see clear synergies and complementary expertise in metabolic health across the disciplinary spectrum and across our Cornell community,” Finkelstein said.