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Who am I Helping?

Sitting back to ask big-picture questions

Sitting at a lab table, her face pressed against a microscope, Carlota Dao, N10, NG13, often asks herself: Who am I helping? “As a scientist, it’s easy to stay focused on the immediate world,” Dao says. “But I keep asking myself why this research matters. Who’s in the bigger picture?”

Dao’s focus is on the medical effects of obesity. Her desire to couple her interest in biochemistry with a study of its broader implications brought her to the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. As the recipient of the Stanley N. Gershoff Scholarship, Dao had her tuition and fees covered, and she received a stipend. She also received a seat on the student-led planning committee of the annual Stanley N. Gershoff Symposium, which brings together experts in the biological and social sciences to debate topics in nutrition policy. Dao was humbled to receive such an honor. “I had this awesome privilege of planning the symposium along with the other committee members,” Dao says. “It was invaluable exposure to the field of nutrition.”

While at Friedman, Dao also won the Stanley N. Gershoff, Simon J. Simonian, and Arpi A. Simonian Prize for Research Excellence in Nutrition Science and Policy for her work toward her thesis on iron deficiency as a consequence of obesity. In the lab of Dr. Simin Nikbin Meydani, Dao worked on a clinical study to compare the iron levels of two groups of pregnant women, one obese and one lean, and their infants. The study found that, regardless of the mother’s iron level, the babies of the obese mothers had a lower iron status than the babies of the lean mothers.

Having completed her Ph.D., Dao is now dividing her time between the Institute of Cardiometabolism and Nutrition (ICAN), a research institute in Paris that focuses on nutrition and health, and Danone, best known in the U.S. for Dannon yogurt products. “ICAN and Danone share the goal of enhancing nutrition in the populations that they target and are at the forefront of an important push to train people to serve as ambassadors between academia and industry,” she says. Dao’s research focuses on gut microbiota and its association with obesity and obesity-related diseases. She is excited to be part of a cutting-edge collaboration and thanks Friedman for preparing her. “I really can’t quantify everything I learned from the faculty and my classmates. I think about them daily and silently thank them for teaching me so much.”