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Dr. Maret G. Traber

DSM Nutritional Sciences Award (2013)

Professor, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University (U.S.)  
Dr. Maret G. Traber

The DSM Nutritional Sciences Award is one of the most prestigious awards in nutrition and is given in recognition of recent investigative contributions to the basic understanding of human nutrition. It was truly a great honor to receive it for my work on vitamin E.

From genetic disorder studies to Vitamin E

My work on vitamin E started in the early 1980s, when I was fortunate enough to be working with a physician, Dr. Herbert J. Kayden, who had a lifelong interest in patients with a rare genetic disorder, abetaliproteinemia. One of the complications of this disorder is an inability to absorb fat soluble vitamins, which led me to start studying vitamin E bioavailability.

More than 90% of Americans are estimated to have inadequate vitamin E intakes. And since vitamin E has a very important role in the brain and its protection, understanding how it affects long-term health is key to protecting our society at large. Taking up research in this area was very motivating!

Vitamin E molecules

A key frontier of science

Vitamin E is one of the last nutrients for scientists to understand. The latest developments in equipment innovation have allowed the characterization of oxidation products formed during non-specific lipid peroxidation. In the very near future, we’ll be able to document what fats are being protected by vitamin E.

Specifically, my laboratory is on the cusp of important breakthroughs, and understanding exactly why the human body needs vitamin E. Our research into zebrafish has shown the degree to which their metabolism becomes deranged if vitamin E is insufficient. These findings have huge implications for the human brain, where polyunsaturated fatty acids need vitamin E protection. Already, my work has been instrumental in setting the 2,000 dietary recommendations for vitamin E, and it continues to inform the assessment of sufficiency and excess.

Research is driven by passion - and funding

My own work has been driven by a passion for research and the subject matter. I find asking questions and figuring out approaches to answer the questions very exciting. The best times are when you make a guess about how things work and the experiment shows you’re right.

More generally, I think scientists go where there are interesting problems to solve and there is funding to do the work. It’s heart-breaking to see talented young scientists give up nutrition studies because they cannot find a job. We need to establish better pathways that are not dependent upon becoming a faculty member at a university.