A national research project consisting of 19 states has recognized a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist with its Excellence in Research Award.
The recipient, Yuxiang Sun, Ph.D., is a professor and associate department head for graduate programs in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Nutrition.
The five-year multistate project that recognized Sun is titled “Improving the health span of aging adults through diet and physical activity.” Known among researchers as NE1939, the project is supported by the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA-NIFA.
Sun presented a keynote address at an annual meeting in June for representatives of the project’s land-grant institution participants. She is the project’s only representative from Texas.
Running from 2019 to 2024, NE1939 works holistically to overcome barriers to optimal health and wellness in aging adults by addressing chronic disease, nutritional risk, food insecurity and functional impairments.
Sun’s work and lasting contributions
Sun’s project work has hinged on groundbreaking discoveries related to “the hunger hormone” ghrelin. Her studies have propelled Sun to international recognition as a leader in her field, and she was named an AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow earlier this year.
Sun’s research has investigated how ghrelin signaling affects obesity, inflammation, insulin resistance, aging and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
“Nutrition research has demonstrated the important diet-disease relationship as well as other highly relevant outcomes such as weight maintenance, disease resilience and healthy aging,” Sun said.
The work of NE1939 takes place as US adults 60 years of age and older have become the largest growing age group, accounting for about one in seven Americans, according to the US Census Bureau.
“Inflammation is central to the aging process — a phenomenon described as inflamm-aging,” Sun said. “Basically, obesity is a low-grade chronic inflammation in adipose tissues. There is a clear correlation between adipose inflammation and the instances of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Inflammation is also considered a hallmark of aging because inflammation is linked to a wide range of chronic diseases in older people.”
Outcomes of the research include a better understanding of nutrition and physical activity needs of at-risk aging adults, and development and implementation of effective strategies to address these needs as well as identifying biomarkers related to the health of aging adults. A component of the multistate initiative also includes training of undergraduate students in quantitative research.