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Arnold School of Public Health


Beets and Chatterjee named 2016 Breakthrough Stars by the Office of the VP for Research

January 19, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

The Office of the Vice President for Research recognized only 12 faculty members with the Breakthrough Star award in 2016, and Arnold School researchers Michael Beets (Exercise Science) and Saurabh Chatterjee (Environmental Health Sciences) were on this short list. Faculty members are nominated and selected by peers for this award based on their early career achievements. They exceed expectations in their fields, demonstrate exceptional potential and make outstanding contributions to research and scholarship.

A leader in the field of public health interventions targeting children’s physical activity and healthy eating, Beets has published 127 peer-reviewed articles and garnered more than $7 million in external funding since he joined the Arnold School in 2008. Using community-based participatory research, his work focuses on developing strategies that practitioners can integrate into afterschool programs and summer camps to prevent or reverse obesity and improve children’s health overall (see video).

These efforts have led to four grants from the National Institutes of Health (i.e., three RO1s and one R21) while helping shape the national conversation on what policies these programs should adopt as well as how to best meet these standards. The 2015 Arnold School Faculty Research Award Winner turned this research into 40 scholarly publications and works to ensure that the findings are translated back into the communities that he studies. “Michael is someone whose impact is felt well beyond the scientific community,” says Wake Forest Associate Professor Justin Moore. “His important work has ramifications for the scientific community, the practice community, and the community in which he lives.”

Beets shares his gifts not only with the children whose lives he improves but through his interactions with students (e.g., Graduate Research Assistant Keith Brazendale is a 2016 Breakthrough Graduate Scholar) and colleagues as well. Entrepreneurial in nature, he clearly knows his way around the grant application process and mentors others to share his forward-thinking vision that ensures results. “I have not met another researcher like Michael,” says Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior Assistant Professor Brie Turner-McGrievy. “He has the unique combination of being very productive while simultaneously being approachable and supportive of junior faculty. He is a leader in his field and will continue to bring international recognition to USC around childhood obesity, physical activity and nutrition.”

In another department at the Arnold School, Chatterjee also combats obesity, but he approaches his research from a completely different angle. The trailblazer of his award-winning Environmental Health & Disease Laboratory specializes in both toxicology and liver research, often in conjunction with obesity. In the “Chatterjee Lab,” the Society of Toxicology Outstanding Young Investigator Award winner performs cutting-edge biomedical research with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Chatterjee hit the ground running when he arrived at the Arnold School in 2012 with his NIH Pathway to Independence Award in hand. He set up his lab in just 2.5 months, with experiments running in three months and awards rolling in two short years later (18 local, national and international awards to date). Meanwhile, Chatterjee and his dedicated team of postdocs and graduate assistants, including Breakthrough Graduate Scholars Suvarthi Das (2015) and Diptadip Dattaroy (2016), have been churning out publications. In the past three years, they have helped grow the body of knowledge on toxicology and liver research through 24 peer-reviewed journal articles. In conjunction with the team’s awards, the Chatterjee Lab has quickly risen to become a recognized authority in both fields. “His original contributions have significantly impacted research at other immunological laboratories, deepening his impact on scientific knowledge and clinical practice,” says Geoffrey Scott, chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.

His growing reputation in his fields is evidenced by invitations to collaborate on new projects and present his research at conferences and other events. Chatterjee’s peers agree that his presence both at the university and in the field has made an important impact. “Saurabh’s rapid trajectory as an expert in his research area belies his rank and time spent at the University of South Carolina and also makes him an extremely worthy candidate for this award,” says exercise science department chair James Carson.

Beets, Chatterjee and their 2016 Breakthrough Star peers will be featured in a special supplement of Breakthrough magazine and honored at the Breakthrough Awards Dinner in the spring.