Jim Pestka received his Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from Cornell University and conducted post-doctoral research at UW–Madison’s Food Research Institute, working with “giants in the field whom I have tried to emulate as role models,” he says. For the past 30 years he has been a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University. His current research could one day be applied to address obesity. His team focuses on how molecular mechanisms activated by foodborne toxins, in addition to activating a classic immune response, also can initiate anorectic and vomiting responses that prevent further intake and expel the offending food.
“What’s exciting is that these latter effects are extremely rapid and mediated by gut satiety hormones which normally signal our brain that it’s time to stop eating,” he says. “Interestingly, by feeding low levels of these toxins, we can reverse obesity in experimental mice. By understanding the underlying mechanisms, it might be possible one day to tease apart the satiety-inducing effects from illness effects, thereby leading to novel pharmacotherapies applicable to the obesity epidemic.”