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LaVerne L. Brown, Ph.D. - Health Scientist Administrator

LaVerne L. Brown, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist Administrator/Program Officer in the Office of Dietary Supplements. She is developing a research portfolio that focuses on elucidating biochemical mediators of resilience to help gain a better understanding of how metabolic adaptations to biological and environmental stressors may impact nutrient status and overall health status in individuals. Research investigations that aim to clarify whether a change in nutrient status and metabolism represents a beneficial adaptation to a stressor vs. a detrimental imbalance to the system (or a combination of both) may help to address an important knowledge gap:

  • When do individual nutrient variations require intervention?
  • Which factors (genetics, physical activity, life stage, medications, environment, other nutrients) should be considered before intervening with supplementation?

The program will encourage researchers to identify more opportunities to study “resilient” special populations (active duty military, veterans, centenarians) that are typically under-represented in scientific investigations.

Dr. Brown first joined ODS as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow in August 2016. In this role, she led a project to explore the vitamin D paradox in Black Americans. Black Americans represent a population that is typically under-sampled in scientific investigations; and the paradox is that, despite markedly low measures of vitamin D status in Black Americans, the incidence of falls, fractures, or osteopenia are significantly lower compared to White American counterparts with similar vitamin D status. A 2017 forum on the topic (which Dr. Brown organized in collaboration with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institutes on Aging, and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) provided insight into the state of the science with respect to key knowledge gaps impacting vitamin D status and bone health. There was consensus among the panelists that Black Americans gain no skeletal benefits from high doses of vitamin D supplementation, and that high levels of the biomarker of vitamin D status, serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D, in this population are almost certain to result in adverse effects.

Currently, Dr. Brown promotes the ODS research portfolio via collaborations with the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) and members of the Department of Defense Food and Nutrition and Dietary Supplement Subcommittees. In addition, Dr. Brown works closely with ODS colleagues to help build collaborations with the Veteran’s Administration to explore the use of electronic health records for determining the prevalence of use, benefits, and risks of selected dietary supplements with respect to specific health outcomes and dosages.

Dr. Brown received her B.S. degree in chemistry from Old Dominion University, her Ph.D. in organic/natural products chemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University, and post-doctoral training in medicinal chemistry at the National Institute on Drug Abuse at NIH. She is a former associate professor of medicinal and organic chemistry; and her research interests have included the isolation and chemical characterization of active molecules from natural products, as well as the design and synthesis of novel small molecules to better understand the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in neurological disorders. She is currently a member of Sigma Xi: The Scientific Research Society and AAAS.