The Divine Legacy of Nutritional Research Continuing at AUHS
By John Schloss, Ph.D.
Roger John Williams was a pioneer in 20th-century nutritional research. He discovered vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), lipoic acid, and the biotin-binding protein avidin. His brother, Robert R. Williams, was the first to synthesize thiamin (B1). Thiamin deficiency was responsible for 30% of the deaths in 1920s Japan.
Roger (1893-1988) and Robert (1886-1965) were born in India (Ootacamund and Nellore, respectively) to Christian missionaries Robert and Alice Williams. It was in India that they first saw the effects of nutritional deficiencies. After his parents returned to the United States, Roger Williams grew up in Ottawa, Kansas (near where Dr. Schloss was a professor of pharmacy for 14 years) and Otay, California, where his father had a small pastorate. At the University of Texas, Austin, Roger later founded the Clayton Foundation Biochemical Institute (CFBI).
CFBI became famous for many discoveries in the field of nutritional research.
In the 1980s, one of the investigators at the CFBI, William Shive, developed a human lymphocyte-based assay to assess individual nutritional deficiencies. Unlike other dietary assessments, based on the levels of specific nutrients in the blood, the lymphocyte proliferation assay (LPA) could detect functional deficiencies originating from either genetic or dietary defects, assessing genetics and epigenetics simultaneously. Shortly after Dr. Shive invented the LPA method, Dr. Schloss had the good fortune to meet him during a visit to the University of Texas. It was immediately apparent how valuable the LPA would be in determining the relationship between nutrition and health for a single individual.
Like Dr. Williams, Dr. Shive was a religious man. William (‘Billy’) Shive was active at the University of Texas, supporting the Religious Studies Program. Since meeting Dr. Shive in 1986, Dr. Schloss has included information about the LPA as part of his courses taught at five different pharmacy schools. Various investigators at AUHS (primarily led by Drs. Zeiler and Ngo) will set up and administer the LPA as part of our community outreach and research missions. Although the LPA has been commercially available since 1993, it continues to receive less attention and is less well known to healthcare providers than it should be. Unfortunately, Dr. Shive died in 2001 without completing much of the necessary research to validate the method.
Researchers at AUHS plan to continue to develop this method and provide nutritional counseling and assessments to those in need, especially for those who are disadvantaged and to fight healthcare disparities prevalent among poorer communities.