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Skidmore College
Health and Human Physiological Sciences

Jonathan Brestoff Awarded Two-Year Goldwater Scholarship

Jonathan Brestoff, a member of the Class of 2008 at Skidmore College, has been named a winner of a two-year Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

A graduate of Milton Academy in Milton, Mass., Brestoff is the son of Nick and Lois Brestoff of Valencia, Calif.

Established by Congress in 1986 to honor the longtime senator, Goldwater Scholarships support study in mathematics, engineering, and the natural sciences as preparation for careers in those areas. In the latest round, for the 2006-07 academic year, 323 scholarships were awarded to undergraduate sophomores and juniors from the United States.

The newest Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,081 mathematics, science, and engineering students nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. The scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year.

"I literally jumped for joy," Brestoff said, when he heard the news. He was gratified to learn that less than one-quarter of this year's winners were college sophomores. "To see my name on the list of winners was the most exciting thing that has happened to me in a long, long time," he added.

Brestoff, a dual major in exercise science and chemistry (with a biochemistry concentration), said he used his application to address one facet of a "big question": What cellular mechanisms are responsible for the development of non-insulin dependent Type 2 diabetes? Insulin resistance occurs when the pancreas secretes greater amounts of insulin to compensate for decreased peripheral insulin action. The condition is closely associated with obesity, but the cellular connection in this relationship has not been established. Brestoff believes that free fatty acids (which occur in greater quantities in the obese) may activate a specific intracellular protein called mTOR that promotes insulin resistance.

According to Brestoff, mTOR is a relatively new player in the search to understand how insulin resistance develops, forming the basis of his research. He's looking forward to unlocking a possible relationship between the protein and insulin resistance and will devote his next two years at Skidmore to this research. "Of primary interest to me are the cellular pathways associated with diabetes mellitus and obesity, the ways in which these pathways are affected by diet and exercise, and the ways in which those pathways are related to each other," he explained.

A high honors student at Skidmore, Brestoff says simply, "I like lab science." His interest in obesity research stems from a battle during his youth to deal with his own weight. "I became passionate about healthy eating and during my free time I started researching proper nutrition," he said.

“ Of primary interest to me are the cellular pathways associated with diabetes mellitus and obesity, the ways in which these pathways are affected by diet and exercise, and the ways in which those pathways are related to each other.”

As an intern with the William J. Clinton Foundation in the summer of 2005, Brestoff worked with the foundation and the American Heart Association (AHA) on a program geared to reduce obesity in children. He worked on improving the nutritional quality of children's meals in targeted restaurants by helping to establish nutritional criteria and by analyzing the potential effectiveness of those criteria, considering whether the guidelines were realistic for the restaurants involved.

Earlier this year, Brestoff was among a small group of Skidmore students who traveled to Washington, D.C., for the AHA Obesity, Lifestyle and Cardiovascular Disease Symposium. The students were accompanied by Paul Arciero and Patricia Fehling, associate professors of exercise science; Denise Smith, professor and chair of the Department of Exercise Science at Skidmore; and Elyn Zimmerman, nutritionist in Health Services. The students were able to observe presentations by researchers analyzing new developments in the field. Said Brestoff, "It seemed clear to all of us who attended the symposium that obesity is such an important issue and can have very serious consequences, such as heart disease, diabetes, and other factors that can contribute to premature death." He added, "Obesity is extremely complicated, since genetic, environmental, nutritional, and physiological factors are associated with it."

While his post-Skidmore plans are still far in the future, Brestoff is eyeing Medical Scientist Training Programs to obtain a dual degree of M.D./Ph.D. in preparation for a career in clinical research. "I would like to obtain a Ph.D. degree in metabolic diseases, with an emphasis on the relationship between obesity and Type 2 diabetes. I plan to focus on prevention rather than treatment," he said.

His emphasis on prevention took hold on campus last year when he founded SNAC, the Skidmore Nutrition Action Council, a student club that promotes nutritional awareness and stresses the importance of healthy dietary habits. In its short history under Brestoff's tenure as club president, SNAC hosted a Nutrition Awareness Week last November, and celebrated Nutrition Awareness Month in March. Said Brestoff, "We challenged people each week to try different eating patterns." In March, SNAC encouraged and challenged students to eat more fruits and vegetables, get more exercise, and limit their soda consumption. "The point was to get people to think more about nutrition and exercise," said Brestoff.

On Thursday, April 27, SNAC is hitting the road to visit the Maple Avenue Middle School, where club members will attend the classes of health teacher Diane Denny. Denny's seventh-grade classes will learn more about two specific topics: "Fruits and Vegetables in Depth," and "Added Sugar Ambush." Brestoff said that the college students are looking forward to sharing knowledge with the middle school students and "giving something back to the Saratoga community."

Next year, Brestoff will step down as president of SNAC to assume a new title: Vice President for Academic Affairs in Skidmore's Student Government Association. And of course, he'll continue his research into the mysteries of obesity and diabetes.