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campus scene

Malamud meets Kesey…and Guggenheim Professor Steve Stern a born storyteller
Twining upward
Skidmore is a new ivy
Creature research
Studying microbes, ants, rats
Science appreciation Teenagers go from mud to microscopes
Lean, mean research machine Student wins federal grant for diabetes research
Hearts of fire Determined donors fund firefighter-safety research
Trailblazers North Woods stewards serve as guardians
Commonalities Finishing touch on Northwoods Village
Books Faculty and alumni authors
Professoriat What the faculty are up to
Sportswrap Summer sports highlights

Lean, mean research machine

Childhood obesity is epidemic in America. Since 1980 its incidence has doubled among adolescents and quadrupled among younger kids; today 15 percent of all children are obese— that is, so overweight that it can lead to disease, including diabetes. Budding scientist Jonathan Brestoff ’08 wants to change that, and he just won a federal grant that might help. Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships for math, science, and engineering went to just 323 juniors and seniors this year, out of 1,081 applicants nationwide. Less than a quarter of the winners are juniors like Brestoff, whose grant runs for two years to see him through graduation. He says, “I literally jumped for joy” when the news came.

A double major in exercise science and chemistry, Brestoff is studying how Type 2 diabetes develops. (Type 2 is non-insulin-dependent and mostly treated through diet and exercise. Unlike the insulin-treated diabetes, which usually starts early in life, Type 2 used to be mostly a late-
onset form that followed many years of poor diet, overweight, and inactivity; now it’s affecting alarming numbers of children.) Type 2 is not so much a problem of insulin deficiency as insulin resistance, which is closely associated with obesity, though the exact mechanisms aren’t fully understood. With Skidmore professor T. H. Reynolds, Brestoff is testing the idea that free fatty acids, which occur in greater quantities in obese people, may activate an intracellular protein
called mTOR that promotes insulin resistance. He spent this past summer in related studies—protein transport of fatty acids—at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities.

In summer 2005 Brestoff interned with a Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association program to improve the nutritional quality of children’s meals in certain restaurants. Last spring
he went to Washington, D.C., with a small group of Skidmore students and faculty for an AHA symposium on obesity, lifestyle, and cardiovascular disease. The forum emphasized for him that fighting obesity is “extremely complicated, since genetic, environmental, nutritional, and physiological factors are associated with it.”

Fueled by scientific and personal commitment (after struggling with weight issues as a high-
school athlete, he says, he became “passionate about healthy eating”), Brestoff last year founded the Skidmore Nutrition Action Council, a student club. In the spring SNAC members visited
a health class at Saratoga’s middle school to discuss topics like “Added Sugar Ambush,” and for Nutrition Awareness Month on campus, Brestoff reports, “we challenged people each week to try different eating patterns”—like more fruits and vegetables, less soft drinks. He says, “Leading by example is one of the most effective ways to encourage others to think about their food choices.” And he adds, “I believe strongly in the mind-body connection.”

This year Brestoff stepped down as SNAC president to become the Student Government Association’s VP for academic affairs. That, along with his ambitious laboratory schedule
and fitness activities that include playing in a local hockey league, should keep him efficiently
burning calories all year long. —SR, AW