Campus News - April 9, 2001


Kriehn takes nutrition science to new heights at HSC

By Veronica Valencia

Joanna KriehnBy the looks of her, it’s hard to believe Joanna Kriehn is an avid rock climber – who likes nothing better than to dangle hundreds of feet above the earth, relying on her body movements, strength and agility to get her to the top.

The petite 27-year-old said she likes the calculated risk of the sport. She also enjoys just the right mix of science and art for her position as a research bionutritionist at the UNM Health Sciences Center’s General Clinical Research Center.

“Nutrition has enough science to keep it interesting, with just enough art to motivate people, and help them reach their goals in a positive way,” she said.

With a perfect view of the Sandia Mountains, the General Clinical Research Center sits on the 5th floor of UNM Hospital, where Kriehn, a registered dietitian, and other bionutritionists are conducting national nutrition research on hantavirus, a mysterious disease that still has scientists perplexed.

One aspect of the Hantavirus Survivor Study, funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), assesses the diet of a hantavirus survivor. The NIH contacts patients within six months after contracting the disease, and participants come to UNM annually for five years. The study began in 1996.

“Not enough is known about hantavirus, and we want to see what is happening with survivors years after they’ve had the disease,” Kriehn said. “My unit specifically looks at intake and body composition changes.”

Kriehn works with hantavirus survivor patients in filling out a food frequency questionnaire. This helps her find trends and routines in their diet, which will help researchers gain some knowledge on how the disease may have changed their lives in terms of their nutrition, their ability to exercise and their energy levels.

She also works on a plethora of other studies taking place at the clinic, including finding the effects of white and purple grape juice on platelet aggregation. With this study, researchers hope to learn if grapes contain a chemical that could thin blood, therefore reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“Joanna is particularly talented in helping researchers design the nutrition component of their research protocols, “ said Darlene Gray, her supervisor. “She is very resourceful in finding the most current information, either in the literature or within her professional network.”

A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Kriehn said her interest in health promotion was sparked in high school. During college she became more interested in nutrition research, and is currently working on her master’s in nutrition science at UNM.

It’s evident that health and fitness is a big part of her life. Even though she indulges in the occasional slice of pizza and peanut butter, she rides her bike to work, enjoys a long run to unleash the day’s stress, and in her spare time, she’ll travel to Utah, Colorado or her hometown of Phoenix to head for the rocks.

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