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Meet the Scientist Interview: Dr. Hubert Vesper

Categories: Division of Laboratory Sciences, Meet the Scientist Blog Series, National Center for Environmental Health

Dr. Vesper showing Dr. Portier how some of the lab equipment works

The “Meet the Scientist” series brings you conversations with NCEH/ATSDR scientists that aim to give you a sense of the talented people who are working to keep you safe and secure from those things in the environment that threaten our nation’s health. This time around, we’re focusing on Dr. Hubert Vesper, from the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH)’s Division of Laboratory Sciences (DLS).

Background on Dr. Hubert Vesper

Born in Karlsruhe, Germany, Hubert studied food chemistry and received his PhD degree at the University of Munich. The food chemistry curriculum in Germany is geared toward work relating to consumer protection. As a result, the knowledge and expertise he gained was a great bridge to his post graduate work at Emory University, and on to protecting public health here at CDC! He began his career as an Oakridge Research Institute for Science Education Fellow and has since worked in the Division of Laboratory Sciences (DLS) for 15 years.

Hubert’s Work

Hubert is involved in many projects, so I’m going to highlight only two—his work with acrylamide and clinical chemistry:

Acrylamide

Hubert and his team study people’s exposure to a chemical called acrylamide. Acrylamide, which is found in foods, is suspected to cause cancer in humans. He’s currently working with the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and other researchers to investigate possible effects of acrylamide exposure on people’s health. Hubert also has worked with researchers at Harvard and in Europe using unique study cohorts such as the “Nurse’s Health Study” and the “European Prospective Investigation into Cancer” to obtain better information about possible associations between acrylamide exposure and cancer.

Dr. Portier and Dr. Vesper

Hubert’s work in clinical chemistry is about improving diagnosis, detection, and treatment of chronic diseases. Specifically, Hubert’s clinical chemistry projects improve the measurement indicators for diseases, called “biomarkers.” For example, cholesterol is a biomarker for heart disease, A1C is a biomarker for diabetes, and high estradiol levels in postmenopausal women are used as markers for risk of breast cancer.

Here’s one more tidbit: if your doctor performs lab tests for you, Hubert’s staff in DLS ensures your lab results are accurate. He does this by calibrating and verifying the calibration of the tests your doctor uses.

Notable Accolades

Hubert has received many honors of which he is especially proud. Recently, he was featured in USA Today, and he also earned an award from the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute:

USA Today Trans Fats Feature USA Today recently featured an article on Hubert’s work titled Americans’ Levels of Trans Fat Fall Dramatically. The feature highlights the decline of trans fats in Americans. These fats are created during food processing when liquid oils are converted into semi-solid fats — a process called hydrogenation. This creates partially-hydrogenated oils that tend to keep food fresh longer while on grocery shelves. The problem is that these partially-hydrogenated oils contain trans fats which can also increase low-density lipoprotein LDL-cholesterol and decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — risk factors for heart disease.

Hubert, who is the lead author of a study on this topic, co-authored it with the National Center for Health Statistics. The Journal of the American Medical Association first published this study. The article in this journal states that between 2000-2009, levels of trans fats in white American adults dropped by 58%. “This is substantial progress that should help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in the U.S. We are encouraged by this,” Hubert says.

Award from the Clinical Information Standards Institute

The Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute recognized Hubert for his assistance with developing internationally recognized lab standards with their 2010 award for “Excellence in Consensus Management.” CLSI develops standards for laboratories and promotes the development and use of voluntary consensus standards and guidelines within the global health care community. Hubert continues to help develop the best possible guidelines for clinical lab testing procedures.

Best CDC Experience

When I asked Hubert about his best experience so far working at the CDC, he told me it’s working with his staff, which has a “non-competitive focus on getting the job done.” “I work with young, highly motivated people who keep me busy,” he said. “Numerous possibilities are available at CDC for researchers. The things we do here are unique.”

I hope you enjoyed reading about Dr. Hubert Vesper. Watch for my next Meet the Scientist conversation!

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