Filomena Gomes is a truly inspiring and ambitious nutrition scientist holding a B.Sc. and a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences. Her curiosity and eagerness for knowledge lead her to gain a wide range of professional experiences in nutrition science, obtained in five different countries.
Filomena you are originally from Portugal, today you live and work in New York. How did you get there?
With my B.Sc. degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Porto and a Ph.D. degree in nutritional sciences from King’s College London, I became a registered nutritionist in Portugal and a registered dietitian in the UK - all of which allowed me to work as a nutrition expert in five countries. I have worked in clinical nutrition in Portuguese health care settings, food legislation in Belgium (European Commission), clinical research and clinical nutrition in the UK and Switzerland, and - more recently - public health nutrition in the U.S. The last change of country was “family-driven”, which led me to work as a Program Manager in the Nutrition Science group of the New York Academy of Sciences, located in the World Trade Center.
Some of the changes to a new country were career-driven, others were “family-driven” - but the demand for (nutrition) expertise was high in any country/city, no matter where I went.
What are the most exciting projects you have been involved?
I truly enjoyed all the professional experiences I had in those five countries, which makes it difficult to pick up the most exciting projects. Even before I completed my B.Sc. degree, I visited a human milk bank in California and became fascinated about the benefits of donor human milk on those babies who cannot be breastfed, which ended up being the topic of my thesis (and my first peer-reviewed publication).
On my first job after graduating, in 2008, I developed an interest in the role of nutrition in post-stroke recovery and ended up doing my Ph.D. in this area. Soon after my Ph.D., I provided nutritional care to the most vulnerable acute stroke patients, as a clinical dietitian in the Stroke Unit of St. Thomas’ Hospital in the heart of London. It was a pleasure working for the UK National Health Service, where the profession is extremely well organized.
While in Switzerland, without speaking the local language, I created 2 jobs from spontaneous applications: in the clinical job, I developed a whole new nutrition service to support the recovery of the inpatients in a state-of-the-art neurorehabilitation center. It’s fascinating to see the beneficial results of providing the right nutritional intervention to the right patient. In the research post, I coordinated a group of 15 European experts to develop one of the well-known ESPEN clinical guidelines and collaborated in large clinical trials for malnourished hospitalized patients.
In New York, I discovered the beauty of public health and the power of large-scale nutrition interventions. For instance, it’s very exciting to be part of a global initiative to address thiamine deficiency – a problem that is (still) claiming an alarming number of infants’ lives, mostly in Southeast Asia – and help affected countries to develop national control and prevention programs for the deficiency of this vitamin.
What are you passionate about in nutrition and why is this important for our future? Could you summarize the results of your LANCET publication?
I am passionate about nutrition and evidence-based practice. That is why I have developed an interest in systematic reviews and guideline development - to summarize all the existing evidence about a certain nutrition topic and to guide the nutrition community in the use of the most accurate and up-to-date scientific evidence.
The EFFORT study, recently published in the Lancet, is a multicenter randomized control trial (RCT) that assessed the effect of individualized nutritional support in 2088 malnourished medical inpatients. In this large high-quality study, we showed that an individualized strategy (led by dietitians) to meet the nutritional requirements of malnourished patients during the hospital stay improved important clinical outcomes, including survival, compared with standard hospital food. Nutrition can, indeed, save lives!
What is nutrition for you?
It is a complex, challenging, constantly evolving and charming science.
In which field are nutrition experts exceptionally good in?
Nowadays everyone has an interest in nutrition and food and likes to talk about it. Nutrition experts are uniquely placed to critically appraise the available literature and assess the scientific evidence, to provide science-based advice about nutrition – the advice in which the public can trust.
Do you have a role model and how does this role model inspire you?
I have been very lucky to contact/work with a variety of nutrition experts that I truly admire. I have been particularly inspired by the fantastic, rigorous clinical researchers such as Prof. Teresa Amaral (nutritionist) and Dr. Elizabeth Weekes (dietitian), for their contributions to the body of knowledge about the identification and management of disease-related malnutrition. I've been also truly inspired by Prof. Philipp Schuetz, an internist and endocrinologist who is shaping the view about nutrition among the medical community and ends up his presentations with the Thomas Edison´s citation “The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”