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NC State Names New Murdock Distinguished Professors

Giuseppe Valacchi and Colin Kay standing in front of trees

Colin Kay and Giuseppe Valacchi, professors at North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) in Kannapolis, have been named David H. Murdock Distinguished Professors. 

Three Murdock professorships were created with a $2 million gift to NC State from David Murdock, former CEO of Dole Foods and other businesses. Murdock’s gift was matched with $1 million from the North Carolina Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, and the $3 million total was used to create endowments that fund the three professorships. Mary Ann Lila, director of PHHI was the inaugural Murdock Distinguished Professor in 2010 and retains the distinction. 

The North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis was Murdock’s vision. He collaborated with universities across North Carolina to transform Kannapolis, a former textile mill town, into a high-tech research center that focuses on developing a better understanding of human nutrition and foods with enhanced nutritional qualities.

The research efforts at the PHHI, which is part of NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, are focused on shifting the way the American public views and uses plant food crops, utilizing them not only for nutrients but also for phytochemicals that protect and enhance human health.

Kay joined PHHI in 2016 as part of the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences. Kay is an internationally known scientist for his research on dietary phytochemicals and their impacts on human health. Over his career, he has led efforts in method development to support the characterization of phytochemical metabolites in nutrition intervention studies, including recent efforts to support metabolomics biomarker discovery in precision nutrition initiatives. 

Kay has developed online, publicly-available research tools allowing individuals to explore relationships between diet and disease, and has participated in working groups, policy forums and position papers supporting nutrition and health research. 

“It is an honor to just be nominated for such a distinction. To be acknowledged by my peers as contributing to developing a better understanding of human nutrition and its translation to public health is a humbling experience,” says Kay.

Valacchi has been a faculty member at PHHI since 2016 and is a member of the Department of Animal Science. His research focuses on understanding the mechanism by which modified redox homeostasis can affect tissue physiology and develop in pathophysiological processes. His lab evaluates the effect of exogenous and endogenous sources of oxidative stress on target organs such as skin, GI tract, lung and signal pathways involved in the cellular responses to these insults, with a special focus on epithelial wound healing. Additionally, his research interests include understanding the role of oxidative stress and the effect of dietary intervention in Rett Syndrome. 

“I am very honored for this title, for which I need to thank all my colleagues, my director and most of all, my lab members who are able to carry out our research with great dedication and a positive attitude; part of this award belongs to them,” says Valacchi.Valacchi has hosted 18 visiting scholars, most from his home country of Italy, and has co-authored more than 300 total publications, of which 200 are related to his six years at PHHI. Earlier this year, Valacchi was also named a 2021-22 University Faculty Scholar.

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.

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