Former Texas A&M Department of Nutrition student and registered dietitian Anna Salvador, Ph.D., of College Station, was recently awarded the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Salvador earned her doctorate in nutrition from the Department of Nutrition in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2021. From 2021 to the present, she has been a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine at the Texas A&M School of Medicine. She also works as a registered dietitian for Aramark Healthcare assigned to Baylor Scott and White Medical Center, College Station.
Salvador said her interest in nutrition and the accuracy of nutrition research took hold during her senior year of high school.
“I became aware of the variety of diets and nutritional guidance being given by doctors and accredited nutrition professionals, all of whom seemed knowledgeable and eminently qualified, but who had very different views on and approaches to nutrition,” Salvador said.
Salvador said this compelled her to pursue research and clinical analysis in diet and nutrition. She did her graduate work in the lab of David Threadgill, Ph.D., a University Distinguished Professor, Tom and Jean McMullin Chair of Genetics and head of the Department of Nutrition, Bryan-College Station.
The Distinguished Scientist Award honors 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 also must be of recent origin and conducted in Texas. Award recipients will be recognized at the Texas Academy Annual Conference and Exhibition. This year’s event will be held April 13-15 at the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol.
“I am very honored to have received this award and 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 empowered me to take an atypical path forward to complete my graduate work and become a registered dietitian concurrently. I believe this has made all the difference in both my research and clinical practice.”
Studying influence of genetics on diet and nutrition
“When I came to Texas A&M, 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.”
Precision nutrition 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 specific foods and nutrients.
Salvador said Threadgill and Karen Geismar, dietetic internship director for the department, were both critical in helping her navigate concurrently through her doctorate program and dietetic internship.
“I have known Anna since she contacted me about her interest in my research lab during her senior year at McNeese,” said Threadgill. “I knew immediately that Anna was a remarkable student. She demonstrated her potential and developed into an outstanding scientist. She is, by far, the most talented trainee that I have had in my lab over the last 25 years.”
Precision nutrition research
While studying in the Department of Nutrition, Salvador joined a project in Threadgill’s laboratory in which researchers were investigating genetic-dependent responses to diet using mouse models and relevant human diets.
“This project was ideally aligned with her career interest in precision nutrition to achieve improved health,” Threadgill said.
Salvador identified genetic factors regulating how individuals respond to carbohydrate-containing diets by generating two large genetic crosses between two types of mice with divergent responses to American and ketogenic diets. The American diet is a high-fat, high-sugar diet, while the ketogenic diet is a high-fat and no-sugar diet.
“Through detailed genetic analysis, Anna identified several candidate genes that regulate how individuals respond to sugar-containing diets,” Threadgill explained. “She followed this work by testing the utility of genetic markers to predict response to sugar-containing diets as a paradigm for how precision nutrition may be applied in humans.”
He said Salvador also investigated the role of the gastrointestinal bacteria, or microbiome, in diet and nutrition. She is currently completing a second precision-nutrition project investigating how thermogenesis, or increased body heat, can be induced to overcome excess caloric intake.
Incorporating 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 determine links between diet and disease.”
Salvador’s clinical experience includes implementing the Nutrition Care Process in nutrition risk assessment, diagnosis and intervention for malnutrition in diverse disease states encountered in the acute-care setting.
She has also provided manageable, patient-centered nutrition education and counseling to promote adherence to dietary guidance in addition to participating in interdisciplinary rounds in the intensive care unit of a local hospital.
Salvador has drawn on her clinical work to develop a novel hypothesis on a dietary induction of inflammatory bowel disease. This research is proposed in a pending application to the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“In her hospital work, Anna continues to use her clinical experiences with patients to hypothesize on the potential causes of disease and research how these might be prevented or treated through better nutrition,” Threadgill said.
Contributions to public policy and service
Karen Beathard, Ph.D., registered dietitian nutritionist in the Department of Nutrition, said Salvador also has contributed to advocacy and policy initiatives that were directed towards diversity improvement in health care and ensuring adequate nutrition for those who are food insecure.
“She enhances the health of community members through her work as a consulting registered dietitian at Baylor Scott and White,” Beathard said. “And her unique research program evaluating the impact of genetics on optimum health of individuals is well-positioned to have a significant impact on society.”
Beathard said Salvador’s interest in the individual and on precision nutrition and genetics is reflected in the high quality of clinical care she provides hospital patients and clients.
Salvador has made professional contributions to science through the authorship of four publications and more than 20 combined state, 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, Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Southeast Region of Nutrition and Dietetics.
A leader in her field
Beathard said Salvador is also an exceptional professional role model who enthusiastically trains and mentors undergraduate research assistants and provides them the opportunity for authorship.
“Several of these students have progressed into medical school, dietetic internships and other professional schools or graduate programs,” she said. “Additionally, Dr. Salvador serves on the Didactic Program in Dietetics, DPD, Advisory Committee and contributes by chairing or serving on various task force committees. Most recently, she chaired the DPD Eligibility Requirement Task Force and is currently serving on a Mentor Program Development Task Force.”
Salvador also has been honored for her accomplishments with numerous 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. Additionally, she has received multiple ASN travel awards to present her research findings related to precision nutrition.
“Anna has been a great supporter of our programs and has always displayed an interest and passion for our profession and for helping others in the field of dietetics,” Beathard said.
Building the evidence base for nutrition science
“Anna is an outstanding and dedicated clinician-scientist who has a bright future as an intellectual driver of precision nutrition,” Threadgill said. “She is inquisitive, driven toward excellence and sets a high standard of quality. In addition to her scientific capability, she is also dedicated to training future scholars, many of whom will also become dietitians. She is very committed to the idea that nutrition can benefit human health.”
Beathard said Salvador’s work would help build the objective, science-based knowledge base needed for dietitians to make solid recommendations for nutrition.
“It’s important to have valid data backed by scientific research,” she said. “Anna’s work provides both scholarship and the scientific foundation on which to base professional dietary recommendations.”
Salvador said she hopes to continue to forge a path toward leadership roles for dietitian scientists in clinical and laboratory settings.
“I feel that the role of the dietitian-scientist is becoming increasingly important as evidence mounts for precision nutrition and personalized dietary guidelines,” she said.