The brain has long been recognized as a critical regulator of whole-body metabolism, and in recent years, its central role in the development of obesity and metabolic disorders has become more evident. To better understand how the brain mediates these conditions, we have identified neural pathways involved in obesity. Today, I will talk about one of these pathways, which is mediated by the small GTPase Rap1, and its role in energy and glucose balance. I will present evidence linking the gut hormone GIP to the brain via neuronal Rap1 signaling. In addition, I will talk about our recent findings providing genetic evidence that this brain pathway may be targeted by metformin and mediate its antidiabetic effects.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Makoto Fukuda received his Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo and completed postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Department of Pediatrics, at Baylor College of Medicine. His research program utilizes various approaches such as mouse genetics, chemogenetics, metabolic phenotyping, organotypic brain slices, and neurobiological techniques. Ongoing research projects involve studying signaling mechanisms that regulate neural leptin sensitivity, a gut-brain signal that promotes obesity, and a novel neural signaling pathway of metformin.


Most cancers are epithelial in origin and can invade other tissues, and we seek to understand: 1)How inherited mutations may contribute to pathogenesis and perturbed immunity in reproductive cancers. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of death among cancer cases in US men. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be over 190,000 new cases of prostate cancer in the US in 2020. It is estimated that one out of 9 men will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, with African American men and older men being affected disproportionately. A study examining molecular mechanisms of health disparities identified 362 differentially expressed genes in signaling pathways regulating tumor aggressiveness. Risk factors which contribute to cancer include advanced age, smoking, ethnicity, inheritance, and to a certain degree—although less clear—diet, obesity, inflammation and chemical exposure. Although known variants of pathogenicity have been linked to disease for prominent DNA repair genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, it is unclear whether there is a contribution for the key-related gene PALB2. The goal of our current projects is to determine the role of variants of undetermined significance on prostate cancer cell gene expression, apoptosis and proliferation. We will use the All of Us Research Hub to identify variants. The objectives are to express clinical variants of PALB2 in prostate cancer cells and examine gene expression, homologous recombination, apoptosis, and cell proliferation. In a future direction, we aim to determine the responsiveness of cancer cells with variant mutations to current targeted therapies.

Speaker Bio

Victoria Mgbemena is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where she studied Host-Pathogen Interactions. She completed her Postdoctoral studies in Hematology/Oncology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, where she studied the role of a DNA repair gene in hematopoiesis.

Dr. Mgbemena’s research topics interests include: Inheritance of rare diseases, Reproductive Health, Applications for developing Personalized Medical Approaches, Health Disparities, and Preventative Care. She is interested in the following mechanisms: Cell-Cell Communications, modulation of cell metastatic potential by DNA repair pathways.

Dr. Kim recently teamed with Dr. Janet Antwi, assistant professor in nutrition and dietetics, in College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (CAFNR) at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) and Salma Musaad, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics and biostatistics in the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) for an NIH T32 training grant to train both pre-doctoral and post-doctoral trainees in AI-Precision Nutrition research to promote nutrition health equity among underserved populations. This is a five-year, $1.7M grant, sponsored by the Office of Nutrition Research and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Project Title: Increasing and Diversifying Future AI-Precision Nutrition Research Workforce to Promote Nutrition Health Equity among Underserved Populations

Principal Investigator: Seungchan Kim (Contact PI), Janet Antwi (MPI), Salma Musaad (MPI)

[ PVAMU R&I Press Release NIH RePORTER ]

Dr. Dong was recently awarded an NSF ExpandAI grant to train African American students in multidisciplinary skills, expanding career opportunities, and bolstering AI infrastructure, aligning with broader AI research initiatives. This endeavour is a collaboration between College of Engineering and College of Juvenile Justice and aims to harmonize with institutional goals, nurturing the growth of PVAMU’s Ph.D. programs, ultimately amplifying the university’s AI prowess.

Project Title: CAP: Semi-supervised Fairness-Enhanced Knowledge Graph Construction on Social Media for AI-Enhanced Juvenile Justice

Principal Investigator: Xishuang Dong

Project Description: Social media serves as a dual-edged platform, not solely exploited by gang-affiliated youth to provoke physical altercations and rivalries, but also widely used by community members to share information about violence and gang conflicts. To fortify violence prevention, a collaborative team from PVAMU’s Colleges of Engineering and Juvenile Justice aims to develop fairness-enhanced knowledge graphs (FKGs) from social media data. These graphs seek to unveil the real-world intricacies, consequences, and local insights into youth violence cycles. The FKG creation involves ensuring fair data representation, constructing semi-supervised graphs, and evaluating their quality. This initiative also focuses on training African American students in multidisciplinary skills, expanding career opportunities, and bolstering AI infrastructure, aligning with broader AI research initiatives. The project’s educational objective aims to elevate African American representation in science and engineering by revamping curricula, mentoring students in interdisciplinary research, and engaging in AI-related competitions. Outreach initiatives intend to recruit students and facilitate broader HBCU community participation. This endeavor harmonizes with institutional goals, nurturing the growth of PVAMU’s Ph.D. programs, ultimately amplifying the university’s AI prowess.

NSF Program: NSF Expanding AI Innovation through Capacity Building and Partnerships (ExpandAI)

NSF abstract


Nutrition and obesity are major public health issues in the US and worldwide. There are significant disparities in diet quality and obesity among different populations. To better understand and address these disparities, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) methods can offer powerful tools for analyzing large and complex data sets, generating novel insights, and developing effective interventions. In this presentation I will review some of the statistical challenges in nutrition data analysis and opportunities pertaining to the use of AI/ML to answer health disparity questions. I will present real world applications of AI/ML methods for exploring the relationships between obesity with nutrition and other behaviors among children. I will also present preliminary findings on area-level food access, social determinants of health and obesity data. We will also discuss some of the challenges and limitations of these methods, such as data quality, ethical issues, and interpretability. We conclude by highlighting some of the future directions and opportunities for using AI/ML methods to advance the field of nutrition and obesity disparities research.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Salma Musaad is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine (BCM). She has an MD from University of Khartoum, Sudan, and a Ph.D. in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from the University of Cincinnati, Department of Environmental Health, College of Medicine, with 14+ years of experience conducting clinical research in academia and clinical research organizations (industry). She joined the Children’s Nutrition Research center (CNRC) at BCM, where she is collaborating with other faculty at on grants pertaining to experimental and randomized trials as well as observational studies that investigate strategies to improve diet quality and reduce obesogenic behaviors. Dr Musaad is currently leading a Biostatistics and Data Research Core at the CNRC. She is the PI of the Biostatistics and Data Management Core for the NICHD’s 5-year P01 program titled “Leveraging passive objective assessment methods of preschooler’s media use to examine multiple paths of influence on sleep, executive function and weight status”. She also serves as the biostatistician for different projects, including the NIH Rare Disease Clinical Research Network’s Brittle Bone Disorders Consortium (NIH U54), Advancing Clinical Science in Pediatric Gastroparesis (NIDDK U01), Super Chef: Family Fun in the Kitchen (NHLBI R34), and is a Co-I in a multicenter observational study, the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program for understanding the effects of environmental exposures on child cognition and development (NIH UH3).

In her previous roles, she worked in industry (Kendle and Battelle) where she was the lead biostatistician on multiple clinical trials spanning diverse subject areas. She also built and managed a biostatistical core in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Her main research interests focus on the impact of diet quality and its environmental and behavioral determinants on chronic disorders including obesity, diabetes, asthma, and cancer as well as how they link with stress and inflammatory markers for cardiovascular disease. Dr Musaad is a member of the Network of Minority Health Research Investigators and a 2022 Fellow in the inaugural cohort of the Fellowship in Leadership within the artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) Consortium to Advance Health Equity and Researcher Diversity (AIM-AHEAD) program. She was a recipient of the Award for Excellence in Reviewing for the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 2 years in a row (2021 and 2022). The Journal’s Editor In Chief and Executive Director, Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior stated that she was “… selected from over 800 reviewers based on your dedication to reviewing for JNEB and the quality of your reviews”. She also mentors clinical fellows regarding the design of proposals and analysis of existing data to support manuscript development and K awards.

To implement and expand on her AIM-AHEAD Fellowship in Leadership experience, Dr Musaad is developing a program for using AI/ML methods to advance equity in obesity prevention interventions and precision nutrition research, with an emphasis on contextual factors regarding social determinants of health and cultural attributes, and integration with high-dimensional data (e.g., ecological momentary assessments, wearables, gene expression signatures in response to nutrient intake and food components).

Dr. Musaad enjoys statistical programming in using SAS, R, MPlus, and Python, drawing, listening to classical music, and building forts with her children.