Virginia Tech students leapt into the future of translational obesity research during an exclusive visit to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus, as part of the Translational Obesity Undergraduate Research Scholars Program

The Translational Obesity Undergraduate Research Scholars (TOUR Scholars) Program is a research-intensive summer experience that prepares students for graduate and medical education in translational obesity research, which is research intended for direct application to people. The program is led by Deborah Good and Samantha Harden, associate professors in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This year, there are nine TOUR Scholars, eight undergraduate students from Virginia Tech and one undergraduate student from Radford University. 

During their visit to the National Institutes of Health, the TOUR Scholars met with Marc Reitman, chief of the diabetes, endocrinology, and obesity branch; Amber Courville, staff scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; and Diana Cummings, program director of the division of digestive diseases and nutrition, during a career panel. The scholars also had the opportunity to tour the NIH Metabolic Clinical Research Unit and Metabolic Chambers with Chen Kong, director of human energy and body weight regulation core, as their guide.

The TOUR Scholars program is funded by an NIH R25 Research Education Grant and is under the umbrella of the Center for Transformative Research on Health Behaviors. TOUR Scholars are matched with a faculty mentor working across the obesity translational spectrum and, over the course of 10 weeks, complete  National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases-related research projects.

Each scholar will present research at the Office of Undergraduate Research Summer Symposium on Thursday, July 27, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. in Goodwin Hall. The conference funded by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, and a National Science Foundation grant. The symposium is open to the public.

A group of students with two faculty members stand in two rows for a group photo.
This year's TOUR Scholars with their program directors: (from left) Abhinav Krishnan, Timothy “Tim” Le, Keaton Band, Wenjing Yu, Tyler Parker-Rollins, Genet Mehari, Katherine Lattig, Deborah Good, Leah Ellis, Samantha Harden, and Kimuchu Kibue. Photo by Cameron Warren for Virginia Tech.

Obesity is a common, serious, and costly disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was nearly $173 billion in 2019. Medical costs for adults who had obesity were $1,861 higher than medical costs for people with healthy weight.

Data from the 2017-18 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that more than 2 in 5 adults and almost 1 in 5 children were considered obese. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.

The TOUR Scholars represent a variety of disciplines at Virginia Tech and Radford University:

  • Abhinav Krishnan, biochemistry junior, mentored by Siobhan Craige, assistant professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise
  • Keaton Band, human nutrition, foods, and exercise senior, mentored by Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise and at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
  • Leah Ellis, nutrition and dietetics junior at Radford University, mentored by Valisa Hedrick, associate professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise
  • Kimuchu Kibue, cognitive and behavioral neuroscience senior, mentored by Christopher Thompson, assistant professor in the School of Neuroscience
  • Katherine Lattig, human nutrition, foods, and exercise junior, mentored by Julia Basso, assistant professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise
  • Timothy “Tim” Le, biochemistry junior, mentored by Irving “Coy” Allen, associate professor of biomedical science and veterinary medicine in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Genet Mehari ’23, a biochemistry graduate, mentored by Craige
  • Tyler Parker-Rollins, psychology senior, mentored by Scott Geller, Alumni Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Science
  • Wenjing Yu, biological sciences senior, mentored by DiFeliceantonio
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