Obesity Research and Education Initiative

Dr. Brenner Wins the 2014 Regents Award for Faculty Excellence

BrennerCharles Brenner, Founding Co-director of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative and Professor and Roy J. Carver Chair of the Department of Biochemistry, has received a 2014 Regents Award for Faculty Excellence.

The award, which is given to those faculty whose work represents “a significant contribution to excellence in public education,” is one of the highest honors given by the University of Iowa for faculty achievement.

Dr. Brenner has had an exceptional career, beginning with his early academic trajectory. After graduating from Wesleyan in 1983, and working at Chiron Corporation and DNAX Research Institute, he earned his PhD from Stanford in 1993 for purification and characterization of the Kex2 prohormone processing protease. During his post-doctoral appointment, which was conducted at Brandeis, he served as a Leukemia Society of America fellow and showed that histidine triad proteins are a novel superfamily of enzymes related to galactose-1-uridylyltransferase.

Dr. Brenner began his independent research program at Thomas Jefferson University in 1998, where he rose to the position of associate professor and director of the Structural Biology and Bioinformatics Program of the Kimmel Cancer Center. In 2003, he was recruited to Dartmouth, where he directed the Cancer Mechanisms Program of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. There, he also served as the Associate Director for Basic Sciences and the Scientific Director of the Thoracic Oncology Group at the cancer center. Dr. Brenner’s research has been funded by the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Foundation, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the Lung Cancer Research Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Brenner’s current research is largely focused on reversible modifications of DNA and proteins and the relationship between metabolism, gene expression, and organismal function. He is best known for uncovering new steps in NAD metabolism including the existence of nicotinamide riboside as a vitamin precursor of NAD in eukaryotic cells. This work combines basic mechanistic science with work that attempts to translate nicotinamide riboside into a preventative and therapeutic agent for particular diseases and conditions.

Dr. Brenner was recruited to the University of Iowa in 2009. In response to then Provost Wallace Loh’s call for proposals to develop faculty clusters focusing on grand challenges of the twentieth century, Dr. Brenner developed the idea to create the Obesity Research and Education Initiative (OREI), which he directs with Dr. Allyn Mark. The OREI, working closely with the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, have made Iowa a destination institution for interdisciplinary research and substantive outreach in problems including overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes and its complications, human activity, behavioral economics, eating disorders and other related problems.

In his role as professor, department chair, and research scientist, Dr. Brenner is also responsible for the training and mentorship of undergraduates and graduates, post-doctoral fellows, laboratory assistants, and faculty colleagues. Brenner mentees have important positions worldwide. Three will take faculty positions this summer, namely Dr. Peter Belenky, who will become an assistant professor at Brown University, Dr. Rebecca Fagan, who will become an assistant professor at Bucknell University, and Dr. Ruth Grossmann, who will become an assistant professor at Iowa. Many of his trainees become expert practitioners in technologies that he helped to develop and disseminate at the University, such as high throughput screening and metabolomic analysis.

Dr. Brenner has also become nationally known in educational matters. As a faculty member who teaches metabolism to undergraduates and who is in touch with the changing landscape of undergraduate, medical, graduate, and professional education in the molecular sciences, he and Dr. Dagmar Ringe developed the premedical curricular recommendations endorsed by the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. These recommendations, which have been further developed in peer-reviewed literature, go farther than recognizing that biochemistry will be a required subject in the 2015 Medical College Achievement Test. Recognizing that 500,000 new U.S. college freshmen per year enter the premedical pipeline and 20,000 doctors are annually produced, Dr. Brenner has advocated developing curricula that will improve the preparation of all of the biomedically-inclined students in areas including data analysis, genetics, biomolecule reactivity, macromolecular structure and metabolism.

Winners of the 2014 Regents Award were announced at the Faculty Senate meeting on April 29th. The award comes with a one-time $1000 stipend. Dr. Brenner will be presented with the award in the fall. Other winners of the award this year were Kim Brogden, Dows Institute for Dental Research and the Department of Periodontics; Charles Lynch, Department of Epidemiology; John Beldon Scott, School of Art and Art History; Larry Weber, Civil & Environmental Engineering; and Mary Wilson, Internal Medicine.

In his nomination, Dr. Brenner was noted for his deep engagement in research, his efforts to expand student learning opportunities, and his aptitude for bringing together individuals from different departments in order to establish new intercollegiate research and education initiatives.