A former researcher in pharmacology and toxicology at Northeastern University, Jeffrey Blumberg, A98P, A02P, had one principal interest – to determine the mechanisms of action of drugs and toxicants in lab animals. When Hamish Munro, the founding director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts (HNRCA), got him thinking about how the diets he fed his mice and rats might be affecting them and their reaction to these chemicals, he began to appreciate the power of nutrition. Soon after, Blumberg came to work for the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, then called the School of Nutrition, and has remained for 28 years.
“What keeps me at Tufts and the whole experience here that is so wonderful is the same thing as when I first arrived – a real passion among the faculty and students about nutrition and making it work to promote health,” says Blumberg, professor of nutrition and director of the HNRCA’s Antioxidant Research Laboratory.
“From Jean Mayer, I learned that nutrition was not just a science, but also an agenda,” he says. “It was clear that Tufts’ program was not just an academic exercise but one committed to address real problems – from malnutrition to health promotion to disease prevention – nationally and globally.”
Blumberg’s research focuses on dietary antioxidants and how they can help to protect against the risk of chronic diseases. Recently, he has been investigating how mixtures of different antioxidants in foods work in a synergistic manner to create a defense network to fight oxidative stress and inflammation, conditions that can lead to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. He is particularly interested in understanding how polyphenols, including flavonoids and stilbenes, from blueberries, dark chocolate, oats, and tree nuts are absorbed and metabolized to bioactive molecules in the body. One of the projects in his lab is directed to understanding the impact of these polyphenols on the fetal origins of adult disease through epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of inherited changes in the way selected genes function without altering their DNA sequence. Ultimately, Blumberg hopes this work will help define which and how much of these compounds from plant foods contribute most to support optimal health.
Blumberg shows his commitment to Tufts not only through his research, but through his ongoing gifts to the Friedman School Annual Fund . “I give charitable gifts to groups I believe in, and I really believe in this school. Plus, it’s sort of a family thing, “says Blumberg, speaking of his two sons who graduated from Tufts years ago.
Student involvement in research and lab work is one aspect that keeps Blumberg on his toes. “Students are really good at asking questions,” he says. “Sometimes they don’t appreciate how importantly these questions help spur me and my colleagues to examine new research approaches and methods.” It’s those probing questions that make Friedman alumni so exceptional. Blumberg says, because of the tight-knit community within the Friedman School, he keeps in touch with almost every student he’s had in the past 28 years. Alumni have landed great jobs in academia, in the federal government, and with food and pharmaceutical companies, as well as NGOs all around the world.
He says, “When new students arrive in the Friedman School, it’s always exciting for me to wonder where each will eventually end up.”