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2012 – Nicki Baker, University of Kentucky

Superfund Research Program

photo of Nicki Baker

Nicki Baker, Ph.D., is the fifteenth recipient of the annual Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award. The award was presented on October 23, 2012, at the Superfund Research Program (SRP) Annual Meeting hosted by the University of North Carolina and Duke University in Raleigh, North Carolina. The SRP acknowledged Baker for her contributions to research on how environmental toxins impact obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Baker was a doctoral student under the guidance of Lisa Cassis, Ph.D., in the Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences at the University of Kentucky. She earned her B.S. in Civil Engineering from Michigan State University. As an undergraduate, she worked full-time for a private engineering firm and then with the Superfund Unit of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. After college, she worked for a large, corporate civil engineering firm to design and inspect major infrastructure public works projects. She then decided to pursue and obtain a one-year culinary degree because of her passion for cooking. She was led to the Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences at the University of Kentucky because of her love for scientific research and her interest in how the environment affects the food we eat.

Baker's work has brought novel insight into how environmental toxins, namely co-planar PCBs, impact human health. Her doctoral work focused on how PCB exposure may blunt the beneficial effects of weight loss to prevent insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. She showed that when obese mice experienced weight loss, those exposed previously to PCBs lost the benefit of improved glucose homeostasis, reducing the impact of weight loss in preventing type 2 diabetes. Her research also demonstrated that dietary polyphenol and resveratrol may protect against PCB-induced impairment of glucose homeostasis.

During her time at the University of Kentucky, Baker also served as an adjunct instructor at the Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Kentucky, teaching Human Nutrition and Human Ecology. Through her lectures, she worked to increase interest in nutrition and its ability to influence health and disease. She was also a mentor to undergraduates studying the effects of Superfund chemicals on adipocytes.

"Nicki knows what she wants to achieve, and as a result, works diligently and responsibly in all aspects of her project," said Cassis. "On her own initiative, she is serving as a role model for future scientists studying environmental chemicals."

Baker completed her doctorate in 2013 and is now a Professor of Health Sciences at Baker College.

The NIEHS congratulates Baker on her accomplishments and wishes her continued success in her career.

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