Joining the College of Public Health and Human Sciences as a Nutrition professor in 2007, Donald Jump also serves as a researcher for the college’s Center for Healthy Aging Research and principal investigator in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State. He previously served as a professor in the Departments of Physiology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and director of the graduate program for Physiology at Michigan State University, among many other professional positions in academia. He earned a master’s degree in Biology from Rutgers University and a PhD in Biochemistry from Georgetown University.
What made you decide to get into this field of study? Is there one specific moment that inspired your career path?
“As an NIH post-doctoral fellow and research assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine-Endocrinology and Metabolism Section, I was fortunate to work with world-class scientists, including clinicians, a biochemist and a molecular biologist. While there, I became aware of how small lipid soluble molecules have major effects on whole body physiology. This concept set the stage for my research career at Michigan State University, where I spent 23 years defining molecular mechanisms of dietary fats’ control of liver function. Today, we are well aware that macronutrients, such as dietary fats, not only function as a source of metabolic energy and structural components of cells, but also are key regulators of cell function. In the ’80s and ’90s, however, this concept was novel.”
What does your current research entail?
“Since coming to OSU in 2007, my research has focused on diet and chronic disease, specifically the role of diet in controlling the onset and progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. NAFLD is now the most common cause of chronic liver disease in developed countries and is defined as excessive lipid accumulation in the liver. The biggest contributor to the development of NAFLD is poor diet – one high in simple sugar, fat and cholesterol. NAFLD is a spectrum of liver diseases ranging from benign fatty liver to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis – NASH, inflamed liver. NASH can progress to cirrhosis, and cirrhosis is a risk factor for primary hepatocellular carcinoma. The incidence of NAFLD in the United States parallels the incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and it is estimated that 5 percent to 30 percent of the United States population has NAFLD. As such, NAFLD is a major public health concern in the United States. and other developed countries. Our research focuses on prevention of NAFLD and its treatment by using dietary supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, for example, DHA, docosahexaenoic acid, in combination with controlling body weight and dietary levels of sugar, saturated fat and cholesterol.”
What sparked your interest in this topic?
“Although NALFD is a common disease, there remains no FDA-approved treatment strategy. Moreover, definitive diagnosis of NAFLD requires liver biopsy. Clearly, an understanding of the disease process is required to develop treatment strategies. Our experience in liver research over the last 30 years has placed us in a good position to tackle this problem.”
How will this make a difference?
“NAFLD is commonly associated with obese and type 2 diabetic patients and is prevalent in obese adults and children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 9 million children in the U.S. are obese. The current standard of care for the NAFLD patient is weight loss, lifestyle management – diet and exercise – and treatment of the co-morbidities associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes, such as hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia and hypertension. Our research approach is designed to understand the impact of specific dietary factors on the onset and progression of the disease, develop dietary interventions that will attenuate disease progression, and identify biomarkers for diagnosis. The outcome of this research will benefit both children and adults.”
What would you say is the most fascinating aspect of this research?
“Discovery; finding something new, exciting and important for human health! Our studies have established that NAFLD is a very complex disease affecting all major metabolic pathways in the liver including lipid, carbohydrate, protein and vitamin metabolism. This complexity creates many challenges, but also many opportunities. For example, we recently discovered that dietary DHA prevented Western-diet-induced hepatic fibrosis. Hepatic fibrosis is scarring of the liver, and if left unchecked will progress to cirrhosis and liver failure. The effect of DHA on hepatic fibrosis is novel and may have significant benefit in treating NAFLD.”
What do you hope is the outcome of your research?
“Our overall plan is to develop strategies to combat NAFLD using our preclinical approach in mice. If successful, these studies will set the stage for future human clinical trials.”
Are you working with anyone else in the CPHHS on this project?
“Kelli Lytle, a nutrition graduate student, is very much involved in this research project and is addressing components of NAFLD for her dissertation research. PHHS Professor Maret Traber and I have a shared interest in the role of oxidized lipids in NAFLD.”
Why is research important in the field of nutrition?
“NAFLD is a chronic metabolic disease caused by poor diet, lifestyle – lack of exercise – and genetics. It is a complication of type 2 diabetes and obesity. The World Gastroenterology Association 2012 Guidelines estimate that by 2020, cirrhosis arising from NAFLD/NASH will be the leading cause for liver transplants worldwide. Clearly, NAFLD/NASH is a major public health concern.”
What’s next for you? Do you have any future research projects lined up?
“The NAFLD studies represent my present and future research focus. There is no quick fix for this disease; it will take several years to develop treatment strategies.”
What is the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it?
“‘Do the ‘doable’ – Jack Oppenheimer, M.D., section head Endocrinology & Metabolism, University of Minnesota School of Medicine. Jack was my postdoctoral mentor at the University of Minnesota. This advice was given as I was selecting research topics for NIH funding. Jack was an excellent role model, and his guidance was very helpful when I set up my research program in the Department of Physiology at Michigan State University.”
What advice would you give to current students and recent alums?
“Many of my PhD students have moved on to post-doc positions before taking positions in academia or industry. I advise my students to select post-doc position(s) that significantly increase their exposure to high-quality, multidisciplinary research – molecular to clinical. This research does not necessarily have to be in the area of their PhD research. In fact, it is better to move to new fields, to broaden one’s exposure to science and diverse approaches to solving research problems.”
What are your favorite activities outside of work?
“My wife, Claudia, and I enjoy working on our property in Philomath and hiking with our three dogs on the trails close to our house. We also enjoy touring and hiking in Oregon, Washington and California, as well as sailing in the Newport area. We spent more than 30 years in the upper Mid-west and feel very fortunate to live and work in a place as special as Oregon.”