Read More: Faculty Spotlight on Steve Malin
March 2021 _ Division of Life Sciences Interview
Tell me about yourself
I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health. I also have a joint appointment in the Department of Medicine/Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nutrition. I’m affiliated with the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health as well as Translational Medicine and Science. Prior to work at Rutgers, I was an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia. Metabolism is my favorite topic. In particular, focus on how one develops Type 2 diabetes is an area of big interest. I enjoy teaching a lot both the undergraduate and graduate level. I’m also involved in various professional organizations, such as the American College of Sports Medicine as well as the American Diabetes Association to name a few. Within these organizations I provide service at various levels. For example, at the American College of Sports Medicine I serve as an Associate Editor for the flagship journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise as well as Chair the Nutrition Interest Group. On a personal note, I grew up in Philadelphia and feel fortunate to have traveled the country a bit for my education. It’s nice to be back in the region I grew up and raise my kids here. I have been married for almost 16 years to my wife Becky and have 5 kids (3 boys; 2 girls). We all enjoy being active and getting to the beach.
How did you become interested in science?
I love sports! In high school I was so thankful to have great athletic training support. I played football, basketball and did track & field. I often found myself wondering how the body “works” and how can we repair/make it function better. Talking to the athletic trainers as well as taking courses such as Anatomy & Physiology sparked the interest in becoming a medical doctor. Looking back I also believe growing up in a house where my mom had type 2 diabetes had a big impact on me. I saw first hand the effort it took to manage the disease. Together, I think my interest in sports and disease, coupled with interest in learning made pursuing a career in science a natural one.
As a student, did you do undergraduate research?
Yes I did. But it was more like a stumbled into it. As I went to King’s college to study and play sports, my passion for biochemistry grew from a sports nutrition standpoint. I received a work-study job to be a research assistant in a neuroscience lab. It was there I began to appreciate how research was conducted to answer questions no one (or at least very few) was really sure about. I majored in neuroscience and we needed to conduct a research study as part of our capstone experience to graduate. Here I had to actually write a grant and propose a study! To my disbelief the faculty liked the idea so much that I received about $8,000 to buy a 3 lane rodent treadmill to conduct the study I proposed. The idea was to test at the time if creatine supplementation could improve running capacity in rodents. Previously it was thought creatine only helped people run faster (not longer) or lift more weight. Based on the metabolism, it seemed possible that create would increase endurance. Well, as they say the rest is history. I finished the study and was encouraged to publish it. At the same time, I switched gears a bit to take “gap years” and receive a master’s in Human Nutrition from the University of Delaware. It was during my time as a Master’s student I decided becoming a professor was really the path for me. The idea of studying an area that I’m passionate about, while having ability to teach and work with people to learn simply seemed awesome.
What are you researching?
The overarching thing we research is how to optimize the exercise “drug”. What I mean by this is we think of exercise as a pharmacological agent. Here we think, when do people need to exercise, how much (time, intensity) or what type (aerobic vs. weight lift) of exercise is best for health and well-being. On top of that, does food interact with exercise? How about pharmacology (actual medication) or dietary supplements? When we think of exercise this way, we think then we can tackle designing the best exercise to combat chronic disease. For us, the major focus of the lab is improving prevention/treatment of Type 2 diabetes. To do this, we focus on insulin resistance as the chief metabolic issue. Currently, we have 2 studies going on. First, we are interested in understanding how the drug metformin interacts with exercise training. While many would say 1 + 1 = 2 from a medical standpoint (i.e. 2 good treatments = better health), the evidence for this is weak. Our hope is to understand this better to prevent future cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The other study we are starting to tackle a bit relates to a single bout of exercise. Here we are interested in identify how each “drug” of exercise works on vascular and metabolic insulin sensitivity in people at risk for diabetes. Our hope too is to understand how specific cells in the body called extracellular vesicles work to modify insulin sensitivity.
What do you like about being at Rutgers?
Rutgers has so many possibilities. The breath of research on top of being a great academic center is stimulating. I appreciate how on one part of the New Brunswick campus we have medicine and on another we have entire institutes designed to promote good nutrition and human movement. Further, there are great opportunities with neighbor campus in Newark and Camden that make answering any question really possible. Weaved throughout all of this is a host of outstanding people wanting to make a positive impact of the lives of people in our community. Being able to provide the community with the latest knowledge through use of state-of-the art technology is inspiring. It’s also been wonderful to speak with students and learn about their own goals. Putting together all these energies makes for a fantastic place to build on for the future. I’m grateful for the chance to contribute to the University’s mission of excellence through teaching, research and service.