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University of Missouri

Parks and Reputation

Mizzou Advantage helps attract top nutrition professor.

Miriam Jacome and Qiong Hu

From Left, postdoctoral fellows Miriam Jacome and Qiong Hu create test meals in the MU Clinical Research Center’s metabolic kitchen. The meals will contain stable isotopes used to track how the body digests nutrients. Elizabeth Parks, professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, and associate director of the center, is one of a few researchers in the United States who uses stable isotope. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Mizzou’s newest professor of nutrition and exercise physiology says you can’t tell how healthy a body is without challenging it. The same could be said for a university.

Challenged to improve its ranking within the American Association of Universities, MU is looking to increase the number of tenure-track faculty on campus — and the research grants and peer-reviewed journal citations they bring.

To that end, using funds from Mizzou Advantage and the Chancellor’s Fund for Excellence, the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology in the College of Human Environmental Science hired noted researcher Elizabeth Parks in October 2013 in a joint appointment with the School of Medicine. Parks will serve as professor in the department and associate director of the Clinical Research Center in the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science.

Parks, formerly at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, is one of a few researchers in the United States who uses stable isotopes — safe, naturally occurring element found in the body — to track what the body does with the nutrients it’s fed and how quickly it does it, which is a prime indicator of health. She found, for instance, that much of the fat stored in the body actually started as sugar that the body consumed, broke down and converted to fat.

The overarching goal of her work is to determine why some people gain body fat more easily than others.

Parks chose MU because of its collaborative culture. “The time for single discoveries by individual faculty appears to be coming to an end,” she says. “To make headway, we must work in teams, … and this group gets that.”

Chris Hardin, chair of the nutrition department, says Parks’ work will complement ongoing research at MU and raise the level of research on campus in nutrition, medicine and agriculture.