As a graduate researcher at Auburn, Lauren Woodie worked toward using the rhythms by which a person’s internal clocks are set to improve health through dietetics. And now, after completing her PhD, Woodie has moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where she is a National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases postdoctoral research fellow at one of the most prestigious protein research labs in the nation.
“Nutrition has always played a big role in my life,” Woodie said. “My mom is a registered dietitian, so growing up, I was always conscious of how food can positively and negatively affect your health. I started doing diet research in undergrad and honestly, never looked back!”
Woodie came to Auburn after finding that Dr. Mike Greene was the principal investigator on one of her favorite research papers. Greene is the director of the Auburn University Metabolic Phenotyping Laboratory and part of the Cell and Molecular Bioscience Fellowship program. In that fellowship program, Woodie rotated through labs focused on diet and metabolism during her first year of graduate work.
“Diet plays such a big role in overall health and is the underlying cause for a large portion of the health problems we see in society today,” Woodie said. “So, I chose Nutrition Science for my PhD because I wanted to get involved in and help advance a field that has potential to ameliorate a wide range of diseases.”
In her second year as a graduate researcher, Woodie designed a project that combined time-restricted feeding with neuroscience and discovered her interest for circadian biology.
Circadian biology is the field of study that researches the synchronization of the body’s internal clocks – those set by sunlight and nutrient consumption – in order to improve metabolism and reduce the chance of developing metabolic diseases. Among her research at Auburn, Woodie investigated how the time of day during which a person eats can reduce their chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
Last February, world-renowned metabolism and circadian rhythm researcher Mitch Lazar attended Auburn’s Boshell Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases Research Day conference. Woodie introduced herself at that meeting and stayed in touch with Lazar, which eventually led her to a position at his dedicated rhythm lab at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The project I am setting up right now will hopefully help us to understand the connection between the master circadian clock in the brain and clocks in metabolic tissues such as the liver,” Woodie said. “The master clock is set by sunlight, but the liver clock can be set by nutrient availability. I would like to fully delineate the role of Dr. Lazar’s protein of interest, REV-ERB, in the maintenance of synchrony between the brain and the liver.” REV-ERB is a protein that acts as a key component in the body’s circadian clock. As a postdoc research fellow in the Lazar lab, Woodie will design and execute projects that further investigate the protein’s significance.
Woodie finished her PhD in December 2019, and while she said it was intimidating to move to a new position, she knows she’ll be able to accomplish even more moving forward.
“Never be scared to get out of your comfort zone. The first thing to greet you when you leave will be fear, but keep showing up, keep pushing forward and you will soon begin to learn and grow in ways you could never imagine,” Woodie said. “The more you push yourself out of comfort and into novelty, the more experiences you will have to draw on to remind yourself that you can thrive in the face of fear.”