Dec. 14, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 49



Eat less — ail more?

Million-dollar study seeks answer

Portrait of Dr. Fernandes FERNANDES

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Dr. Gabriel Fernandes, professor in the department of medicine, a four-year, $1.25 million grant for his research on calorie restriction and infection in mice.

"When you reduce food intake by 30 percent to 40 percent in mice, they live about 40 percent longer than fully fed mice," Dr. Fernandes said. "But when you cut calories, the immune cells responsible for preventing bacterial infection early in life may become weaker."

Dr. Fernandes said immune cells lose the ability to destroy pathogens if they don't receive the right balance of nutrition and energy. His study now will determine which type of calorie-restricted diet produces the healthiest immune system while still prolonging life span.

The research compares three types of diets — food restriction, energy restriction and calorie restriction — to a normal diet. The food restriction diet simply requires cutting the quantity of overall food intake. The energy restriction diet decreases macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) but supplies plenty of vitamins and minerals. The calorie restriction diet lowers carbohydrates, but includes normal levels of fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

The study also will determine the ideal age to begin restricting calories, which ultimately could lead to a longer, healthier life.

Dr. John S. Gunn, an assistant professor in the department of microbiology, is a co-investigator in the grant. Other members of the research team include Drs. Dongxu Sun, Khaliquz Zaman and Richard Lawrence. All are research fellows in the department of medicine.