Umass Amherst food scientist honored with 2019 Young Scientist Research Award

Guodong Zhang, assistant professor of food science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is being honored with the 2019 Young Scientist Research Award from the American Oil Chemists' Society (AOCS). The award is given to scientists whose research "has significantly effected an advance within their discipline, or holds substantial promise for such an effect in the near future."

Recipients of the Young Scientist Research Award must be younger than 36 years old or have earned their highest degree within the last 10 years. Zhang will receive $1,000, a plaque and a $1,500 travel allowance to attend the AOCS annual meeting May 5-8 in St. Louis, Mo., where he will be recognized and give an award lecture.

"We are very happy to receive this award," says Zhang, including his research team in the honor.

The AOCS is an international professional organization with roots back to 1909. It strives to advance the science and technology of oils, fats, proteins, surfactants and related materials.

Zhang's research focuses on seeking ways to reduce the risks of colonic inflammation, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and colon cancer. He aims to identify risk factors and develop new therapeutic targets and biomarkers.

He also studies how exposure to environmental and dietary compounds alters gut microbiota - the different types of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that live in the intestines - and increases the risks of inflammation in the colon and related diseases.

Zhang led a team that identified a set of enzymes involved in tumor growth that could be targeted to prevent or treat colon cancer. That discovery was highlighted in a recent paper published in the journal Cancer Research.

In other published research, Zhang found that triclosan, the antimicrobial ingredient used in some 2,000 products, including hand soaps and toothpastes, alters gut microbiota, potentially worsening inflammation in the colon. And he was the senior author on a research team that identified a new molecular pathway that explains the link between obesity and an increased risk of inflammation in the colon. That research concluded that inhibiting the enzyme involved in the process may eliminate the risk.

At the AOCS annual meeting, Zhang plans to present his emerging research on the role of oxidized fat as a newly discovered risk factor of inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. "This is another major area we are currently working on," he says.

Zhang received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Xi'an Jiaotong University in China, his master of science in chemistry from the National University of Singapore and his Ph.D. in food science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also did post-doctural work at the University of California-Davis before joining UMass Amherst in 2013.

Zhang is the co-holder of four patents related to his work, has published dozens of research papers and has been invited to speak at numerous national and international scientific conferences. He serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

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