The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech recently welcomed its newest faculty member, Josep Bassaganya-Riera.

The long-term goal of Bassaganya-Riera’s research at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute is to better understand how nutrition affects human health. More specifically, he is examining the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which dietary lipids and phytochemicals regulate inflammation and metabolism, and prevent chronic diseases.

His work focuses on three research areas: nutritional immunology, gastrointestinal health, and obesity and its accompanying complications, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The modulation of inflammation and immune function are common integrative themes in Bassaganya-Riera’s work, since both are directly affected by changes in nutrition.

Bassaganya-Riera’s work in nutritional immunology involves characterizing the modulatory effects of dietary lipids such as conjugated linoleic acid (a fatty acid) on inflammation and immunity. One component of this work examines the safety of fatty-acid-enriched infant formula for human consumption by looking at their effects on the immune system. Another key project looks in detail at the immune-related effects of dietary abscisic acid on the activity of specific nuclear receptors (the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma).

Within the area of gastrointestinal health, Bassaganya-Riera and co-workers are examining how dietary compounds and their derivatives may prevent mucosal inflammation, specifically in patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which are two forms of inflammatory bowel disease that affect over one million people in North America and four million worldwide (Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America).

Related to obesity and its impact on health, Bassaganya-Riera’s laboratory is actively screening and discovering naturally occurring, orally active nutraceuticals that activate nuclear receptors and which may provide possible interventions against diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

VBI Executive and Scientific Director Bruno Sobral commented: “Dr. Bassaganya-Riera’s research interests in immunology provide a strong strategic fit with VBI’s research portfolio. The immune system is intimately linked to the host-response machinery in different disease states. VBI’s focus on infectious disease research will benefit considerably from Dr. Bassaganya-Riera’s expertise in immunology and his wider investigations into the impact of nutrition on human health.”

Supplementary biographical information for Josep Bassaganya-Riera
Josep Bassaganya-Riera received his Ph.D. in 2000 in nutrition and immunology from Iowa State University and served as a research assistant, assistant scientist, and associate scientist at the university from 1997 to 2002. He most recently served as assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, directing the department’s Laboratory of Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Nutrition.

In 2006, Bassaganya-Riera was awarded the Junior Faculty Travel Award by the American Association of Immunologists for his research involving gastrointestinal health. His work has also been recognized by the American Society of Nutritional Sciences, who awarded him the 2005 Bio-Serv Award in Experimental Nutrition.

He is a member of numerous professional societies (e.g., the American Association of Immunologists, the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, and the American Gastroenterological Association) and also serves either on the editorial board or as a reviewer for several journals. He has held and currently holds many research grants from various sources including the National Institutes of Health, the United States Department of Agriculture, and industrial corporations.

Bassaganya-Riera has published over 50 scientific papers, book chapters, abstracts and reviews. He has participated in many international and national symposia and meetings on nutrition and immunology; his work is well recognized within and outside the United States.

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