A Jump-Start into the World of Nutrition

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On June 7th, 2018, only three-days after starting my summer internship with Sight and Life, I found myself on a long-haul flight traveling to Boston, Massachusetts, from Switzerland. I was invited to join the Sight and Life team at the American Society for Nutrition’s (ASN) Nutrition 2018 conference – what an incredible opportunity! I could not have been more excited for this perfect introduction into the world of nutrition, particularly since I am interested in applying my current academic background in economics and law to the field of nutrition.

Initiation as an Intern

On the first day, I participated in a team workshop where I met the global team of Sight and Life – such an interesting mix of people! As a complete newbie, I quickly observed that the team is held together by their passion for nutrition, as their backgrounds are quite diverse. Besides nutritionists and scientists, I was stunned to discover there is an assortment of business, communications, marketing, and architecture degrees amongst the group. Additionally, I gained insight on how Sight and Life operates. The team of twelve is spread across four different continents – India, Egypt, Switzerland, South Africa, and USA – completing the majority of their work remotely and therefore making team retreats of great importance.  


The workshop focused on ‘design thinking’ and was a great opportunity for everyone to learn a new method of problem solving. Additionally, having a team with a wide variety of knowledge and experiences presented interesting and rich discussions the during group exercises. The most valuable take aways, for me, were learning the importance of a broad stakeholder analysis, defining a high potential but underdeveloped stakeholder, and how you can engage with an assortment of stakeholders within a complex interdependent system. This mirrors the importance of a multi-sector and multi-stakeholder approach to solving the complicated malnutrition puzzle. The day culminated at Fenway Park cheering on the Boston Red Sox’s as they played the Chicago White Sox for a Sight and Life team outing. 

A Peek into Nutrition

For the next three days, I participated in ASN’s Nutrition 2018 at the Hynes Convention Center. As I have never been to a conference, let alone one focused on nutrition, and I was eager to see how it all worked. With over 3,500 participants registered, it was shaping up to be the largest ASN conference so far. When I walked through the main entrance for the first time, I thought something probably quite typical of a European in America, “Oh my god, this is so big!” Sight and Life showcased a booth in the gigantic exhibitors hall, but there was also several floors of meeting rooms where I would spend the coming days in listening to interesting presentations. 

ASN, Sight Life, Nutrition2018, conference, malnutrition

Eager to learn, I attended as many sessions as I could possibly fit into my schedule covering a wide variety of nutritional topics. I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the list of speakers for each session, naively I thought they would all sit in front and have a panel discussion. However, they were mostly individual presentations sharing the results from their recent research. I learned about behavior change communication, nutrition education, heard about different nutrition strategies and their implementation, and community health interventions that were completed in India and one in a refugee camp in Beirut.
 
For me, the most interesting session was “Demographics, Diversity and Disparities in Nutrition Science”. A few speakers presented research that was focused on a specific region in Hawaii, USA, and an ethnic group of American indigenous people while others presented nutrition issues and development on the global level. The most shocking session I attended was, without doubt, about the nutrition situation of Native Americans by Dr. Donald Warne, a member of the Oglala Dakota tribe from South Dakota, USA. He provided extensive evidence that one does not have to travel far to find health issues as they exist in native communities in the United States of America. He argued that it is almost perverse that in America you are automatically eligible for dialysis in the case of kidney failure; yet, a child is not automatically eligible for healthy food. An anecdote that resonated with me was a story Warne shared of three sisters illustrating the importance of targeting health problems at their roots.

As three sisters walk along a river, they see there are children in the river who cannot swim and are about to drown. One of the sisters says, “Something needs to be done.” She jumps into the river and tries to save the children. The second sister disagrees with the first one saying, “We just need to teach them how to swim!” The third sister has not said or done anything, and the other two are furious with her. “Why aren’t you helping us?” they exclaim, “These children need to be saved!” The third one turns away and starts to walk up the river saying, “I will find and stop the person who is throwing these children into the water.”

Experiencing the Conference

During the three days, my time spent at the Sight and Life booth was both busy and truly engaging. I found it most interesting to talk to students, researchers, journalists, and scientists from all over the world and explain what Sight and Life stands for. It was intriguing to visit the other exhibitors at the conference presenting a variety of nutrition topics from non-profit organizations fighting malnutrition to private corporations offering vitamin supplements. One booth representing a company called Allulite Rare offered samples of chocolate and gummys made with a new kind of sweetener that tastes just like sugar, but without all the disadvantages such as calories, glycemic effect or digestive upset. At the InBody exhibit, I had a body measurement analysis done free. This machine provides individual results for weight and body fat percentage as well as the distribution of lean muscle mass in less than a minute. 

Sight Life, Elevator Pitch Contest, EPC, Finalists 
A highlight for Sight and Life was the Elevator Pitch Contest, where selected students and young researchers presented their innovative ideas on nutrition assessment to a panel of experts. It was fascinating to hear about these cutting edge concepts and that many people my age share the passion for nutrition. Many of the presentations introduced fascinating new mobile applications for measuring food intake. One of my favorite pitches was from Andrea Spray of INATU, standing for ICT’s for Nutrition Agriculture and Time Use. By attaching a tiny camera to women’s clothing, the device provided in-depth research for nutrition assessment as the device automatically takes a picture every minute. Her project in Africa proved that the gadget was generally well received in communities and proved to be a good option for measuring nutrition behavior remotely without much paperwork – this was an interesting idea. It is impressive to see the tremendous progress that can be made in a relatively short time when one is focused on a goal and teams up with the right people.
 
After spending a sunny day sightseeing in Boston, I once again found myself onboard a flight back to Zurich. It was an incredible experience. I learned so much about nutrition, the broadness of the worldwide nutrition issues currently at hand and the importance of bringing all stakeholders to the table. I would like to thank the Sight and Life team and my boss, Klaus Kraemer, for making this possible and for welcoming me into the Sight and Life family.

Take a look through the picture gallery from ASN: 

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Where are they now?

Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest Finalists

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Ever wonder what happened to the first Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest finalists from 2016? Sight and Life had the privilege of catching up with four of the ten finalists from Elevator Pitch Contest to find out what they are up to now and reflect on their experience.

EPC, Elevator Pitch Contest

 
During this competition, graduate and post-doctoral students were invited to submit their ideas on the theme ‘The Future of Micronutrient Innovation’ across diverse categories in nutrition-related products, services and technologies. We received over 90 submissions from students in 18 different countries. With the support of a distinguished jury, we narrowed the selection to ten bold ideas for presentation. The finalists were sponsored by Sight and Life and Tata Trusts, who mentored them as they prepared to present their ideas to a panel of experts, in front of an audience of conference participants during the Micronutrient Forum in Cancun, Mexico. Read more about the 2016 Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest here

The first and second place winners, Muzi Na and Nicholas Myers, share their status and weigh in on the Elevator Pitch Contest along with finalists Nicholas Myers and Sambri Bromage. 
 
Uzi Na, Elevator Pitch Contest FinalistMuzi Na
Location: China
Concept: Empower Grandparents – A mobile application using SMART feeding messages that empower senior caregivers, such as grandparents, to better feed their grandkids in rural China.
 
Na was the first place winner of the 2016 Elevator Pitch Contest with her innovative mobile phone application and persuasive pitch. Today, the idea is on paper with plans to write grant allowing her to collect data about acceptability regarding the idea among the target population. Currently, Na is on faculty at Penn State University as an Assistant Professor in Nutritional Epidemiology.

EPC, Elevator Pitch Contest, Philip James

Philip James
Location Gambia
Concept: Next Generation Supplement Design – A novel nutritional supplement to optimize the mother’s micronutrient status in early pregnancy to better regulate infant epigenetics and decrease future disease risk.
 
A future full of potential, James caught the attention of the jury panels with his inventiveness in 2016. The nutritional supplement has now been designed and is currently in the process of setting up a clinical trial in Gambia to test its effectiveness in correcting micronutrient deficiencies. James and histeam is also looking at how nutrition in pregnancy, particularly at the time of conception, has the potential to influence the way an infant’s genes are expressed, and the implication this may have for the health of that child over his or her life.
 
EPC, Sight and Life, Elevator Pitch Contest Nicholas Myers
Concept: Paper Analytical Devices – A lab-on-paper that measuresiodine levels in salt and urine samples to monitor iodized salt programs at a low cost in real time. 
 
Myers has found support through The Black Lion Hospital, in conjunction with the Ethiopian Food, Medicine, and Health Care Administration and Control Authority, and is performing an implementation study in Ethiopia. If the study is successful, health agencies and governments may use the test card to monitor the quality of iodized salt in marketplaces.
 
With a shift from the nutrition field to public health, Myers has adapted the chemistry of his iodine test card to instead quantify the amount of penicillin-class antibiotics present in finished pharmaceutical pills with greater than 95% accuracy. His hopes are that the test card becomes a field-friendly technology that governments use to detect breaches in medicine compliance.

EPC, Elevator Pitch, Sabri BromageSabri Bromage
Location: Mongolia
Concept: Leveraging Academic Networks for Dietary Survey (LANDS) – A global student-centered network for collecting, analyzing, sharing, and applying dietary data from populations in low-and middle-income countries.
 
Today LANDS is used in Mongolia with interest to expend it internationally. Bromage is currently finishing his dissertation on “Epidemiology of dietary and micronutrient deficiencies in Mongolia” and beginning the search for a post-doc position or job. In tandem, he is working on new and interesting projects that he will be able to share in the future.

1. What did participating in the Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest mean to you personally and your innovation?

Na – The Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest meant a lot to me! Personally, the contest provided an opportunity for me to meet and know manyyoung innovators working in diverse fields all over the world. From the innovation’s perspective, the elevator pitch style is very different from writing a proposal or a manuscript, as there is a short window of time to articulate an idea, including the rationale behind the idea and the potential impact. I really want to thank Sight and Life for organizing this fantastic event, in which I discovered new possibilities to share and sell novel ideas that aim to tackle nutrition problems. 
 
James – It was a privilege to be short-listed for the contest. Being able to attend the contest at the Micronutrient Forum enabled me to meet so many people from different fields in nutrition, to network with people who were interested in my team’s project and to be able to benefit from everything else happening at the Forum.
 
Myers – As an inventor, I welcome any chance to disseminate information about my invention. At the competition, I pitched an idea about an inexpensive paper test card that quantifies iodine levels in fortified salt with greater than 90% accuracy and how it can be used in low- and middle-income countries. At the time of the contest, my invention was making its way through the “Valley of Death,” which is a relatively low funding period between R&D and commercialization. The contest provided a platform on which I, a chemist, reached hundreds of experts in the micronutrient sector, and these multi-disciplinary connections are critical to push an invention through the “Valley of Death” and to commercialization.
 
Bromage – Participating in the Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest helped me realize the international potential of my innovation. Personally, it exposed me to nutrition innovation, a part of nutrition I have not had much experience with as I mostly work in research.

2. What was the biggest challenge you experienced through the creation process of your innovation?

Na – I guess there were many challenges but the biggest one for me probably was to identify the ‘big’ problem that maybe solved by a ‘small’technology, which I understood. Once a niche target population was identified, the process to identify and design an intervention, applying feasible technology to serve the population was straightforward.
 
James – The field of nutritional epigenetics is still rapidly developing, so consolidating the evidence base to design a supplement was an interesting but challenging piece of work. 
 
Myers – The biggest challenge for me was overcoming small but daily setbacks. I had to rapidly prototype dozens of devices with relatively minor changes, most of which did not work. I came to term this ‘Edisoning’ as Thomas Edison had to follow a similar process as he trialed 2000+ materials to develop the light bulb. My technology and I survived the research and development phase because I saw the benefits of the final product outweighing the emotional, physical, and monetary costs to create it.
 
Bromage – My biggest challenge is getting other people interested in my innovation because I am not really a natural born salesperson.

3. What was the most memorable moment from the Sight and Life Elevator Pitch Contest?

Na – It was the moment I decided to stay among the audience and not to give the pitch behind the podium. It was a completely random thought, mostly because I was very nervous. Once I started my pitch right next to the first row of listeners, I immediately felt a connection with the audience. It was an amazing feeling and my nerves immediately disappeared.
 
James – The session when we delivered our presentations was a great experience. It was so good to hear everyone’s pitches, get inspired by the creativity in the room, and to have the support of a room full of interested people. It was also encouraging afterwards to network with people who had further questions and advice.  
 
Myers – The moments I enjoyed the most happened behind the scenes when all the innovators had the opportunity to get to know each other personally. We are not just a bunch of mad scientists- we are a group of seemingly ordinary people with a shared desire to improve health, and with the motivation to do so.
 
Bromage – Getting to meet the other contestants and the Sight and Life team including Kalpana Beesabathuni, Kesso Gabrielle van Zutphen, and of course Klaus Kraemer.

4. What lesson(s) did you learn from your experience?

Na – Be bold, be confident. No idea is too small to share. Lastly, but not least, it is important for any speech-based contest to practice, practice, and practice. 
 
James – It was a great opportunity to learn how to explain an idea succinctly and avoiding technical jargon. An elevator pitch is a very different style of communication than I was previously used to and this was the ideal setting to learn more about how to develop those skills.
 
Myers – Even though I was one of the winners, investors and buyers are not knocking down my door to advance the technology. The lesson I learned is that perseverance is needed at all steps of product development and that I will have to keep pushing just as hard as I did through the research and development stage to survive the commercialization phase of my invention. It took a lot of hard work and gumption to achieve what I have so far, and it will take at least as much to reach the next level.
 
Bromage – Some of the greatest innovations are not devices but rather new ways of thinking about the world.

5. Where do you see the future of nutrition?

Na – I see a lot of potential for the future of nutrition is from the interdisciplinary perspective, where technology, engineering, biology, and other disciplines interact with nutrition making groundbreaking discoveries as well as solving critical nutrition and health problems.
 
James – I see a future where nutrition continues to be integrated with other sectors and disciplines. In my field that means analyzing nutritional biomarkers together with metabolomics, genomic, and epigenomic data to broaden our understanding of the complexities of human metabolism. 
 
Myers – The future of nutrition relies on all of us being citizen scientists making information-based health decisions. Ordinary people need to be provided easy-to-use and robust technologies to help them with these choices. We saw this at the competition, especially with the technologies presented by the three winners.
 
Bromage – Dealing with the effects of climate change.

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