Sean Adams, PhD

Director, Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center

Dr. Adams is Professor and Chief, Developmental Nutrition Section in the Department of Pediatrics at UAMS, and directs the Molecular Physiology Lab at ACNC. He received his Bachelor’s in Biology from California State University, Fresno, followed by a Master’s in Marine Sciences from UC Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After his postdoctoral training at the University of Barcelona and UT Southwestern Medical School, Dr. Adams was a research scientist in biotech and pharmaceutical R&D for over 7 years. Before coming to Little Rock in 2014, he was an Associate Adjunct Professor in Nutrition at UC Davis and led the Obesity and Metabolism Research Unit of the USDA-ARS Western Human Nutrition Center in Davis, CA. His research aims to determine—at a molecular level—how specific foods and physical activity modify disease risk, and to identify new biomarkers reflective of a healthy or disordered metabolism.

Research Interests

Our research aims to understand the molecular events that underlie metabolic disease (e.g., type 2 diabetes) and obesity development, which can then inform on strategies to improve health and fitness and to prevent disease in children and adults.

First, we conduct studies that span from the sub-cellular to the whole body to characterize the mechanisms by which nutrition and physical activity alter metabolic physiology. More specifically, we conduct metabolomics research that interrogates hundreds of metabolites to develop “signatures” that track metabolic status and fitness and follow up with more specific experiments to examine if and how specific pathways or metabolites impact cell systems. Fatty acylcarnitines, for instance, are fatty acid derivatives that—when in excess—can elicit muscle cell stress responses relevant to diabetes, cardiac ischemia and inborn errors of metabolism. Recent work has led to the discovery that these fat metabolites can bind to oxygenated myoglobin in muscle, raising the possibility that this protein helps sequester and traffic fuel with oxygen in the working muscle.

Second, we partner with other ACNC colleagues to study the interactions between the gut microbiome and host. Dietary factors, such as fiber, resistant starch, and even postnatal breastfeeding vs. formula, alter the bacterial ecology in the intestines. This, in turn, elicits physiological changes in the gut, liver, and other tissues. We suspect that specific metabolites derived from bacteria (“xenometabolites”) play a role. The microbiome-host communication is a two-way street: with this in mind, other studies focus on how one’s own metabolic health status regulates the intestinal microbiome, regardless of diet. Altogether, these experiments will provide information that helps us understand how specific foods or food components trigger specific microbiome metabolism changes that improve health and reduce disease risk.

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