Former Texas A&M University Department of Nutrition student and registered dietitian Anna Salvador, Ph. D., of College Station, recently received the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Salvador received her PhD in Nutrition from the Department of Nutrition in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M in 2021. From 2021-present, she is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine at Texas A&M. from medicine. She also works as an Aramark Healthcare registered dietitian assigned to Baylor Scott and White Medical Center, College Station.
Salvador said her interest in nutrition and the rigor of nutrition research was cemented during her junior year of high school.
“I became familiar with a variety of diets and nutritional advice provided by doctors and certified nutritionists, who all seemed eminently knowledgeable and qualified, but had very different perspectives and approaches to nutrition,” said Salvador.
Salvador said this forced her to pursue research and clinical analysis in diet and nutrition. She did her graduate work in the lab of David Threadgill, Ph.D., Distinguished University Professor, Tom and Jean McMullin Chair of Genetics and Chair of Nutrition, Bryan-College Station.
The Distinguished Scientist Award is given to a Texas dietitian who has made outstanding and significant contributions to research in the field of dietetics, nutrition, food science, or related sciences. The nature of the research should be basic or applied. It must also be of fresh origin and made in Texas. Award winners will be honored at the annual Texas Academy Conference and Exposition. This year’s event will be held April 13-15 at the Sheraton Austin Hotel in the Capitol.
“I am honored to receive this award and am grateful for the open-minded and forward-thinking mentors I have had the pleasure of working with at both McNeese State University and Texas A&M University,” Salvador said. “These individuals have enabled me to take an atypical path forward to complete my graduate work and become a registered dietitian at the same time. I believe this has made all the difference in both my research and clinical practice.”
Examine the influence of genetics on diet and nutrition
“When I came to Texas A&M University, Dr. Threadgill gave me an opportunity to work in his lab, where I was able to do research on the genetic components of diet and nutrition,” Salvador said. “This led me to my long-term interest in precision nutrition.”
Micronutrition is individualized nutrition based on a person’s unique characteristics, such as DNA, race, gender, health history, and lifestyle. This approach to nutrition assumes that each person may have a different response to certain foods and nutrients.
Salvador said Threadgill and Karen Geismar, the department’s director of diet training, were crucial in helping her navigate concurrently through the doctoral program and the diet internship.
“I’ve known Anna since she approached me about her interest in the research lab during her senior year at McNeese,” Threadgill said. “I knew right away that Anna was an amazing student. She showed potential and developed into an outstanding scientist. She is, by far, the most talented intern in my lab over the past 25 years.”
While studying in the Department of Nutrition, Salvador joined a project in Threadgill’s lab where researchers were studying gene-dependent responses to diet using mouse models and related human diets.
“This project was a perfect match for her professional interests in precision nutrition for better health,” said Threadgill.
Salvador identified the genetic factors that regulate how individuals respond to carbohydrate diets by generating a large genetic cross between two types of mice with varying responses to American and ketogenic diets. The American diet is a high-fat, high-sugar diet, while the keto diet is a high-fat, zero-sugar diet.
“Through detailed genetic analysis, Anna has identified several candidate genes that regulate how individuals respond to sugar-containing diets,” Threadgill explained. “I followed this work up by testing the usefulness of genetic markers for predicting response to sugar-containing diets as a model for how precision nutrition can be applied to humans.”
He said Salvador also investigated the role of gut bacteria, or the microbiome, in diet and nutrition. She is currently completing a second micronutrition project looking at how to stimulate thermogenesis, or increase body heat, to counteract excess caloric intake.
Integration of clinical experience
“While I was in graduate school, I completed my clinical training and focused my efforts on becoming a registered dietitian,” Salvador said. “I am currently using my clinical observations to help identify links between diet and disease.”
El Salvador’s clinical experience includes implementation of the nutritional care process in nutrition risk assessment, diagnosis, and intervention for malnutrition in the diverse disease states encountered in an acute care setting.
She has also provided controlled, patient-centered nutrition education and counseling to promote adherence to dietary guidelines as well as participating in multidisciplinary rounds in the intensive care unit of a local hospital.
Salvador drew on her clinical work to develop a new hypothesis about dietary induction of IBD. This research has been proposed in a pending application to the National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services.
“In her hospital work, Anna continues to use her clinical experiences with patients to make assumptions about possible causes of disease and research how to prevent or treat them through better nutrition,” Threadgill said.
Contributions to public policy and service
El Salvador also contributed to advocacy initiatives and policies that were directed toward improving diversity in health care and ensuring adequate nutrition for those who are food insecure, said Karen Beatard, Ph. D., a registered dietitian with the Department of Nutrition.
“She promotes the health of community members through her work as a registered consultant nutritionist at Baylor Scott and White,” Beathard said. “And its unique research program that evaluates the influence of genetics on optimal health of individuals is well positioned to have a significant impact on society.”
Beatard said Salvador’s concern for the individual, careful nutrition, and genetics is reflected in the high quality of clinical care she provides to the hospital’s patients and clients.
Salvador has made professional contributions to science by authoring four publications and more than 20 governmental, national and international presentations. She is well regarded as a national and international speaker as well as an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Southeast District of Nutrition and Dietetics.
pioneer in its field
Beatard said Salvador is also an exceptional professional role model who enthusiastically coaches and mentors undergraduate research assistants and provides them with the opportunity to write.
“Many of these students have applied to medical school, dietetic internships and other professional college or graduate programs,” she said. In addition, Dr. Salvador serves on the Educational Program in Dietetics, DPD, Advisory Committee and contributes by chairing or serving on committees of various task forces. Most recently, she chaired the DPD Program Eligibility Requirements Working Group and currently serves on the Mentoring Program Development Task Force.”
Salvador has also been recognized for her achievements with several awards, including the 2020 American Society of Nutrition, ASN Graduate Student Research Award, and ASN Awards in 2020 and 2022 for Emerging Leaders in Nutritional Science. In addition, she has received multiple travel awards from ASN for presenting her research findings related to precision nutrition.
“Anna has been a huge supporter of our programs and has always shown an interest and passion for our profession and for helping others in the field of dietetics,” said Beatard.
Building the evidence base for nutritional science
“Anna is an outstanding and dedicated clinical scientist with a bright future as a thought engine for precision nutrition,” said Threadgill. “She is curious, excellence-oriented, and sets high standards of quality. In addition to her scientific ability, she is also dedicated to training future researchers, many of whom will also become dietitians. She is very committed to the idea that nutrition can benefit human health.”
Beatard said Salvador’s work will help build the objective, science-based knowledge base that dietitians need to make solid nutrition recommendations.
“It’s important to have valid data backed by scientific research,” she said. “Anna’s work provides both scholarship and the scientific basis upon which professional dietary recommendations can be built.”
Salvador said she hopes to continue blazing a path toward leadership roles for nutrition scientists in clinical and laboratory settings.
“I feel the dietitian’s role is becoming more and more important with increasing evidence of nutritional accuracy and personalized dietary guidance,” she said.