Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Health and Nutrition Division Award Winner Feature: Hongbing Fan

Q&A with Health and Nutrition Division Award Winner: Hongbing Fan

Bio: Hongbing Fan is a Ph.D. candidate under the supervision of Dr. Jianping Wu in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Alberta in Canada. His research interests include functional foods and bioactive peptides. Prior to joining the University of Alberta, he did his M.Sc. research on food preservation, specifically aquatic products, at China Agricultural University. Meanwhile, he conducted two industry-driven projects to generate bioactive peptides from crocodile meat and codfish for value-added applications. It was these two projects during his spare time that triggered his interest to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of bioactive peptides. Besides academic work, he assists his supervisor by managing the lab and training new colleagues. He also engages in improving his teaching skills, participating in the Graduate Teaching and Learning Program and practical training as well as being a Teaching Assistant or a guest lecturer for several undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. His extracurricular activities involve organizing academic and social events as well as looking for career opportunities for graduate students in his department since he has been serving as the Chair of the Graduate Students' Association in his department. He also speaks for his department graduate community in the university graduate student council. With AOCS, he volunteers as the Chair of the Student Common Interest Group and as the student representative for the Canadian Section’s AOCS leadership team.

1) What was your reaction when you learned you won Health and Nutrition Division Award?

It was very exciting when I knew that AOCS was recognizing me and my work with this award. This is a true honor and will further inspire me to focus on my research and to engage more with AOCS.

2) How did you get started in the area of focus that you are studying?

When I was conducting thesis research during my master studies, I participated in two industry-driven projects on developing bioactive peptides for commercialized products, which had triggered my interests to continue conducting research in this field.

3) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study?

Language and culture are the first challenges I have faced as an international student. In this regard, my previous internship completed in Beijing at an international food company based in New Zealand prepared me, to some extent, for life and work in Canada. I like talking with people from different cultural backgrounds and being involved in various social and volunteering events. These really helped me improve my communication skills during my studies. As a graduate student, being able to work independently is necessary to develop critical thinking. Collaboration is, of course, highly recommended as it opens your mind to better advance your research. Time management is another skill given that we, researchers, are generally sharing equipment in our department and external vendor supplies also take time. Apart from your research, time management is essential to balancing your research with involvement in various academic or student activities.

4) Do you have any words of wisdom for other AOCS student members?

Work hard and play harder; work independently while enhancing your collaborative skills.

5) How has winning the AOCS Health and Nutrition Division Award helped you develop as a young scientist?

AOCS provides several awards to help students achieve success. The recognition of this award marks a true honor. It will build up my confidence to showcase my research and connect myself with other professionals or colleagues. Many of the world’s excellent scholars and researchers are present at AOCS Annual Meetings, therefore it is a great platform for networking and interaction with peers.

6) Can you tell us about your current research?

My thesis project is to develop antihypertensive peptides from spent hen muscle proteins. Spent hens are the birds that reach the end of their laying cycle and are a waste or byproduct in the egg industry. Every year, more than 30 million spent hens are produced in Canada and ten times more of those produced more broadly in North America. Processing them for food/feed uses is of little economic value to the industry. They are mostly disposed of by burial, composting and incineration; these disposal methods cause environmental and animal welfare issues. Hypertension is a global health concern and food protein-derived antihypertensive peptides are an emerging treatment for hypertension. Although being treated as a byproduct or a waste, spent hens are rich in various proteins which can be a good source of antihypertensive peptides. This project aims to purify and identify novel antihypertensive peptides from spent hen muscle proteins, followed by validating their efficacy in various cell and animal models of hypertension. This new value-added application of spent hens will contribute to alleviating waste disposal issues for the egg industry and produce inexpensive and safer alternatives for the treatment of hypertension, thus yielding extra revenue for egg farmers and nutraceutical and functional food manufacturers.

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