Nutritional Biochemistry

 These guidelines are provided to supplement those published in the Harvard School of Public Health Official Register and Information for Doctoral Stu­dents, as well as published information from the Division of Medical Sciences at Harvard Medical School concerning the Program in Biological Sciences in Public Health (BPH Program).


*        To acquire detailed knowledge regarding the biological basis of nutrition and the mechanisms by which diet can influence health.  This includes a basic understanding of metabolism, physiology, molecular genetics, epidemiology and biostatistics.

*         To develop laboratory skills required for modern biochemical and molecular studies of nutrition and its role in health and disease.  This includes the quantitative analysis and interpretation of results.

*         To attain skills in developing research proposals for the study of human nutrition.  This requires the integration of knowledge about cellular and molecular biology, modern molecular genetics, and human physiology with concepts in nutritional sciences related to diet and disease.

*         To develop skills in the oral and written communication of scientific information.


The Nutritional Biochemistry program aims to provide students with rigorous training in biochemistry and cell biology that may be applied toward solving nutritional problems in the laboratory.  The program includes the following components:

1.  Formal course work

2.  Laboratory rotations with Nutrition faculty (during the first year of study)

3.  Research and departmental seminars

4.  A laboratory thesis project


Students admitted to this program are required to have a good general back­ground in the biological sciences.  Admission to this program is through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) and does not constitute acceptance into other programs within the Department of Nutrition.  Successful completion of program requirements leads to the Ph.D. degree in Biological Sciences in Public Health (BPH).  An accelerated program is available for M.D. and D.V.M. postdoctoral fellows, leading to the D.Sc. degree in Nutritional Biochemistry.


Formal course work (Years 1 and 2).  All students concentrate coursework in nutrition with additional studies in biochemistry and biomedical sciences.  All students are required to take Epidemiology 201 and an intermediate level course in biostatistics (ordinarily BIO200st Statistical Methods in Biology).  The following sequence of required courses is suggested:

Year Term Course Description Credits
1 I (Fall) NUT 201 Principles of Nutrition 2.5
NUT 214 (BPH 300r) Research Techniques in Nutritional Biochemistry 5.0
DBS 205 (BPH 219) Interdepartmental Seminar in Biological Sciences 5.0
NUT 203 Human Nutrition/Nut Epi Seminar 1.25
Electives (To fulfill degree requirements) 
1 II (Spr) NUT 202 The Science of Human Nutrition 5.0
BCMP 201 Principles of Biochemistry 5.0
NUT 214 Research Techniques in Nutritional Biochemistry 5.0
NUT 204 Advanced Topics in Nutrition (Part 1) 2.5
Electives (To fulfill degree requirements)
2 I (Fall) EPI 200 Principles of Epidemiology 7.5
NUT 205 Advanced Topics in Nutrition (Part 2) 2.5
NUT 350 Nutrition Research 2.5
Elective [e.g., Microbiology 201] 5.0
2 II (Spr) BPH 201(or Bio200st) Statistical Methods in Biology(summer) 5.0 
NUT 350 Nutrition Research 5.0
Electives [e.g., BCMP 212] 7.5

To ensure that all students receive adequate exposure to areas of applied nutrition, it is recommended that at least 5 credits be taken from among the following depart­men­tal courses (2.5 credits each).

ID 209                            Nutrition in Child Growth and Development

NUT 209                        Food Science and Technology

NUT 210                        Nutrition Problems of Less Developed Countries

ID 214                            Nutritional Epidemiology


All other electives will be in the biomedi­cal sciences.  The department recommends the following elective courses:

Medical Sciences 265      Human Physiology: Classical and Contemporary Approaches

Cell Biology 201              Molecular Biology of the Cell

Genetics 201                   Principles of Genetics

Laboratory rotations.  Nutrition 214ab/cd or BPH 300r (Research Techniques in Nutritional Biochemistry) will provide an opportunity for students to acquaint themselves with the nutritional biochemistry faculty before deciding on a thesis advisor.  The course consists of the following:

a.  Research.  Students must do laboratory rotations in at least 3 different laboratories before choosing a thesis advisor.  A fourth rotation may be done in the thesis lab in a public health-oriented internship outside the laboratory environment.  Arrangements for each laboratory rotation should be made as early as possible to ensure students the oppor­tunity of working in the laboratories of their choice.  For each rotation, the student and faculty sponsor will decide on a project that can reason­ably be completed during a single period.

b.  Seminar.  Approximately two weeks after the end of each rotation, students will present a 10-minute talk describing their laboratory experience during the previous rotation.  A report describing the student’s work, written in the style of a scientific paper, is also required for each rotation period.

Seminars.  Attendance at all seminars is mandatory.

a.  Student Seminar (NUT 204 and NUT 205).  Students participate in and present seminars reviewing current research in a selected field of Nutri­tional Biochemistry.  Emphasis is placed on devel­oping skills required to formulate original research proposals.  Each student will present a formal seminar to the departmental faculty and staff as part of the regularly scheduled Nutritional Biochemistry semi­nars.

b.  Harvard Human Nutrition Program Seminars.  Held the second Monday of each month, these semi­nars focus on applied areas of nutrition.

c.  Nutritional Biochemistry Seminars.  Held the remaining Mondays of each month, with speakers from outside the department.  These seminars provide faculty, students, and staff the opportunity to become familiar with and discuss research on cellular and molecular approaches to nutritional problems.

d.  DBS – Distinguished Lecture Series.  Held on one Tuesday each month, the Division of Biological Sciences    sponsors a distinguished member of the scientific community’s lecture.  Students are encouraged to hold a      journal club meeting and are invited to lunch with the speaker.


Selection of advisors.  Initially, new students will be assigned a faculty advisor from the Curriculum Committee of the BPH program, typically a faculty member of the Nutrition Department.  After the completion of the laboratory rotations (BPH 300r or NUT 214ab,cd), ordinarily at the end of the spring term, a thesis advisor will be selected from among the faculty in the Nutritional Bio­chem­istry program.  The faculty advisor selected then submits a formal letter to the Depart­ment Chairman stating his/her willingness to serve as thesis advisor.  Advisors will meet with students on a regular basis and report each term to the faculty on the student’s progress.

Doctoral Qualifying Examination.

a.  A doctoral qualifying exam must be taken before the fall semester of the 3rd year.  If a student fails to pass the qualifying exam before the end of the 3rd academic year, the student will be considered withdrawn from the program with an option of completing a terminal Masters degree, the requirements for which are outlined below in section e.

b.  The student will provide proposal outlines (no more than 1-2 pages each) on at least two different topics to the chair of the qualifying exam committee.  After consultation with the student and thesis advisor, the chair will choose the most appropriate exam topic.  Topic outlines must be turned in by June 10th of the 2nd year, although submissions earlier in the spring semester are strongly encouraged.  The final topic will be decided within about 1 week.  The final proposal should be approximately 10 single-spaced pages in a modified NIH format containing the following sections: Abstract, Background and Significance, Specific Aims, and Experimental Design.  The proposal can be related to, but not the same as, the thesis topic of the student.  A one-page outline of the student’s thesis project, including specific aims, should be submitted at the same time.  For students in the DSc track, the Qualifying Exam will focus on the student’s thesis proposal.

c.  Students should turn in their proposal to the Exam Committee members within about 6 weeks after the final topic is chosen.  The student should turn in the proposal at least 10 days prior to the exam date, which is pre-arranged with members of the committee.

d.  The oral exam is expected to cover areas that are both directly and tangentially related to the proposal topic.  Students are also expected to have a general understanding of human nutrition and nutritional biochemistry.  Exam outcomes are pass or fail.  If failed, the student can take the exam one more time after composing a revised or entirely new proposal, at the discretion of the examining committee.  A new committee can be assembled, but it must contain at least one member of the original committee.

e.  For a terminal Masters degree, the student must pass the qualifying exam and successfully complete all course requirements.  If the qualifying exam is failed, the student must write a Masters thesis, which may be either a research thesis or a comprehensive literature review.

Thesis Advisory Committee and Exam.

Thesis Advisory Committee.  The Thesis Advisory Committee is composed of three members in addition to the advisor, with at least one member outside the student’s department and at least one member in BPH program.  The committee will meet every 6 months to assess student progress.  The responsibility of the Thesis Advisory Committee is to help define and focus the thesis project and to decide when the research has reached a stage where a scholarly thesis can be written.

Thesis Exam Committee.  The Thesis Exam Committee is composed of 4 members with a rank of Assistant Professor or higher, with at least one member outside BPH and one additional member outside the student’s department.  The committee can contain only 2 members from the original Thesis Advisory Committee, but at least 1 should be maintained for continuity.  The student’s thesis advisor cannot be a member of the Exam Committee.  The completed thesis should be delivered to the Exam Committee at least 14 days prior to the defense.  If serious defects are found in the written thesis, these concerns should be raised and discussed at least three days prior to the defense.  The committee will then determine whether the exam should be postponed and the problems corrected.  If passed, this requirement fulfills the final obliga­tion for the Ph.D. in Biological Sciences in Public Health.


The faculty of the Department has developed the following guidelines for fellowship awards for doctoral students in Nutritional Biochemistry:

Tuition and stipend support will be based on availability, merit, and/or financial need.  Fellowship awards are subject to the following restrictions:

a.  The awarding of tuition and stipend will follow the contingencies specified in the official letter of acceptance.

b.  Fellowship support will be forfeited if funds are received from another source.

c.  Students must be full-time in Department and maintain good academic stand­ing.

d.  Students must demonstrate satisfactory performance in research.


H. CAMPOS, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Nutrition.  Nutritional biochemistry: dietary and genetic factors affecting lipoprotein metabolism and heart disease in humans.

     Selected reference: Campos H, D’Agostino M, Ordovas JM. Gene-diet interactions and plasma lipoproteins: Role of apolipoprotein E and habitual saturated fat intake. Genetic Epidemiol 2000;20:117-128.

G. HOTAMISLIGIL, M.D., Ph.D., James Stevens Professor of Genetics and Metabolism. Nutritional biochemistry: studies on the regulatory pathways that control energy metabolism; signal transduction in mammalian cells; genetic manipulation of mice.

            Selected reference: Tong, Q, Dalgin, G, Xu, H, Ting, CN, Leiden, JM, Hotamisligil, GS.  Function of GATA transcription factors in preadipocyte-adipocyte transition.  Science, 2000, 290:134-138.

F. SACKS, M.D., Professor of Cardiovascular Disease and Metabolism.  Human lipoprotein metabolism; effects of diet and hormones; dietary fatty acids, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

     Selected reference: Sacks FM, Alaupovic P, Moye LA, Cole TG, Sussex B, Stampfer MJ, Pfeffer MA, Braunwald E. Very Low Density Lipoproteins, Apolipoproteins B, CIII, and E and Risk of Recurrent Coronary Events in the Cholesterol and Recurrent Events (CARE) Trial. Circulation 2000;102:1886-1892.

M. WESSLING-RESNICK, Ph.D., Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry.  Regulation of the cellular uptake of macromolecular nutrients, regulation of iron absorption, membrane transport of metals.

     Selected reference: Wessling-Resnick, M. Iron transport. Annu. Rev. Nutr. 20: 129-151, 2000.


A. ASCHERIO, M.D., Dr.P.H., Associate Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology.  Relations of dietary factors to the occurrence of human disease; development of methods to study these associations in developing countries.

     Selected reference: Ascherio A., Zhang SM, Hernan MA, Olek MJ, Coplan PM, Brodovicz K, Walker AM. Hepatitis B vaccination and the risk of multiple sclerosis. N Engl J Med 344, 2001.

L. CHEUNG, D.Sc., R.D., Lecturer in Nutrition.  Mass media and school-based efforts in promoting good nutrition practices and physical fitness; nutritional and fitness concerns of childhood and adolescence.

Selected reference: Impact of a school-based interdisciplinary intervention on diet and physical activity among urban primary school children: Eat Well and Keep MovingArch. Pediatr. Adolesc. Med., in press, 1999.  With Gortmaker et al.

C. DUGGAN, M.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. Harvard Medical School/Children’s Hospital. Applied nutrition: constitution of oral rehydration solutions for acute diarrhea, nutritional requirements of catabolic patients (e.g. cystic fibrosis, bone marrow transplantation, short bowel syndrome), micronutrient needs in infectious and critical illness, nutritional management of acute and persistent diarrhea, stable isotope experiments.

Selected reference: Duggan C, Lasche J, McCarty M, Mitchell K, Dershewitz R, Lerman SJ, Higham M, Radzevich A, Kleinman RE.  Oral rehydration solution for acute diarrhea prevents subsequent unscheduled follow-up visits.  Pediatrics 1999, 104, e29.

W.W. FAWZI, M.D., Dr. P.H., Associate Professor of International Nutrition.  Etiologies of infectious diseases with emphasis on dietary and nutritional causes; relationships of dietary factors to disease in pregnancy and childhood.

Selected reference: Fawzi WW, Msamanga GI, Spiegelman D, et al. Randomized trial of effects of vitamin supplements on pregnancy outcomes and T cell counts in HIV-1 infected women in Tanzania. Lancet 1998; 351:1477-82.

M. GILLMAN, M.D., S.M., Associate Professor of Ambulatory Care and Prevention, Harvard Medical School/Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Nutritional epidemiology: relationships of dietary factors with occurrence of chronic conditions such as obesity and cardiovascular disease, early life prevention of adult chronic disease, disease prevention in defined populations, clinical epidemiology.

Selected reference: Gillman MW, Rifas-Shiman SL, Frazier AL, Rockett HRH, Camargo CA, Jr, Field AE, Berkey CS, Colditz GA. Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Arch Fam Med 2000;9:235-240.