Kelly Mercer, Ph.D.
Department of Pediatrics
Section of Developmental Nutrition
Obesity is considered the primary risk factor for pediatric nonalcoholic liver disease (NAFLD); moreover, children diagnosed with NAFLD now have a greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and liver cancer as adults. My laboratory is interested in tackling the issue of pediatric obesity and liver health through nutrition. The liver’s primary role is to filter and process most nutrients coming from the digestive tract, therefore one’s diet has the potential to improve liver health, and reduce risk for NAFLD children. Breastfeeding is positively associated with lower BMI in school age children, suggesting that dietary nutrient and/or bioactive components within breast milk program whole-body and hepatic metabolism. Although the mechanisms of how breast milk regulates hepatic metabolism are unclear, it is evident that the gut-liver axis plays a major role. Our studies focus on characterizing these gut-to-liver signaling mechanisms, including nutrient- and/or microbiome-derived bioactive components involved in these processes. The latter work leverages an untargeted metabolomics approach and an in-house xeno-metabolome compound database for identification.