Donovan to lead Illinois Personalized Nutrition Initiative

Donovan to lead Illinois Personalized Nutrition Initiative
Donovan to lead Illinois Personalized Nutrition Initiative

URBANA, Ill. - Sharon Donovan, professor and Melissa M. Noel Endowed Chair in Diet and Health at University of Illinois, will assume the role of director of the newly established Personalized Nutrition Initiative (PNI).

The PNI is a partnership between the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at U of I.

Precision or personalized nutrition, which was identified as a key area for strategic investment in the U of I’s The Next 150 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, is also a keystone of the new National Institutes of Health 10-year Strategic Plan for Nutrition.

“Personalized nutrition offers a way to optimize human health and the quality of life by tailoring recommendations based not only on diet history and phenotype, but also on an individual’s genetics, microbiome, and metabolome,” Donovan explains. “It encompasses almost all known aspects of science, ranging from the genomes of humans, plants and microorganisms, to the highest levels of analytical sciences, computing and statistics of large systems, as well as human behavior.”

To meet this challenge, Donovan envisions the PNI building transdisciplinary collaborative efforts across campus to answer fundamental questions regarding how nutrition modulates health and disease across the lifespan.

Donovan’s research, administration, internal and external interdisciplinary collaborations, and industry relations experiences will bring significant value to the PNI in achieving its goal of coordinating transdisciplinary research, education, outreach, and entrepreneurship in the area of personalized nutrition at the U of I. She holds appointments in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Division of Nutritional Sciences in the College of ACES, as well as the Carle-Illinois College of Medicine and the Microbiome Metabolic Engineering theme in the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

An internationally recognized leader in nutrition who has extensive leadership experience both on- and off-campus, Donovan served as director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences from 1999-2009 and the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program from 2011-2016, both at Illinois. She also served as president of the American Society of Nutrition and on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee. 

With a research focus on pediatric nutrition and the nutritional regulation of host-microbe interactions, Donovan has over 200 publications and has garnered more than $30M in external funding from federal funding agencies, foundations, and the food and pharmaceutical industry.  She has been recognized by campus with the Paul A. Funk Recognition Award and the Spitze Land-Grant Professorial Career Excellence Award from the College of ACES, and as a University Scholar for her distinction in scholarship and service. She was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2017.