Meet our (genius) research team.

Learn the science. From the scientists themselves.

Dr Alejandra "Alex" Ruani, LLD

Lead Scientist and Research Director

  • Nutrition biochemistry
  • Food and eating addiction
  • Nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics
  • Genetics of nutritional diseases

I lead our research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where the team and I make sense of complex scientific literature and translate it into easy-to-understand practical concepts for students. I love everything to do with nutritional sciences, cravings and appetite neurochemistry, and nutritional epigenetics (how food compounds switch genes on and off).

Originally from Argentina, with Italian ancestry, I’m a Harvard-educated scientific researcher who is fanatical about the latest developments in nutrition biochemistry, eating psychology, and personal genetics. What not many people know about me is that I’m also a qualified lawyer (SRA registered) and that I was an Executive Director at JP Morgan’s investment bank in London City, UK. Why do I share this? Because I’m living proof that it’s never too late to change careers and do something new. The work we do at The Health Sciences Academy is so meaningful and fulfilling, and I love waking up every morning knowing that I am making a difference.

The reason why I started living and breathing nutrition sciences is because there’s just so much junk science out there: from the news, “evidence-based” blogs, coaching schools and even "celebrity doctors". Did you know that most of that information is pulled out of context, oversimplified, misinterpreted or just made up – up to the point of endangering your health? They say my virtue (or my curse!) is that I can smell a fad in two seconds. As a result, there are zero – and I mean zero – websites that I follow other than high-impact scientific journals. I’m passionate about cutting through bad science, myths and misconceptions, whilst emphasising the key research and context in which scientific studies are written. I have the ability to absorb copious amounts of data, filter out all the fluff and make it relevant to each individual because I believe that everyone is different. Besides, what's the point of science if it doesn't get translated into something usable? Which explains why I'm so obsessed about teaching personalised nutrition strategies to our students. Because, when it comes to nutritional advice, personsalisation is the only way. You'll often hear me say, "If it’s not personalised, it’s not effective."

I am also a REPs qualified personal trainer and during my spare time advise elite athletes, including those who have Olympic ambitions; this comes from my own childhood dreams of becoming a gymnast (inspired by perfect-10 Nadia Comăneci). I am in The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, Food Matters Live, and other major publications like the Nutrition Society, Bella, and The Sun.

I love to talk science (I think it’s fun!) and if you want to learn the latest from the scientists themselves, stick around.

Dr Michelle de la Vega, PhD

Research Scientist and Lead Instructor

  • Cancer and molecular biology
  • Preventative nutrition and lifestyle
  • Nutritional epigenetics
  • Published 12 scientific studies

My passion for science and biology began before I even knew it was happening. I spent my summers growing up in a trailer surrounded by nature, questioning everything.  This interest led to my pursuing an undergraduate degree in biology and my introduction to research. During my first three years of lab work at the Harvard Cancer Center, I compared the effects of nutritional compounds on normal cells and on cancer cells. Later on, in my PhD studies, I investigated epigenetic changes in cells and how they lead to cancer. In 2009, I received a PhD in molecular biology from Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. My further post-doctoral studies have focused on looking at alterations inside of cells that occur due to diseases like cancer, and I have since published 12 studies in high-impact scientific journals.

This has inspired me to bring practical science closer to those who have been touched directly or indirectly by cancer. The more we know about our bodies, the better chance we will have at living a healthy life. That is why I got into teaching. I love learning about ways to make ourselves the healthiest we can be, so why not share all the knowledge? I have developed and taught university courses on cancer biology focusing on all aspects of the disease: epidemiology, genetic and cellular changes, treatment and prevention, including the nutritional components.

The oldest description of cancer dates back to 1600BC in Egypt and yet we still don’t know that much about this disease. In fact, cancer is not one disease, but is a group of 200 different diseases. No two people even have the exact same cancer due to no two people have the same body.  Most of the research out there is looking for treatment, but why look for treatment when we can prevent it?  Up to 80% of cancers may be preventable from lifestyle factors like good nutrition and exercise.  The proverb, “an apple a day will keep the doctor away” is pretty close to truth because apples (and other fruits and vegetables) have nutrients and vitamins to help fight off diseases like cancer. Moving your body not only helps to burn off excess fat, but also increases your cells ability to repair themselves. And much of this repair happens when you sleep, so make sure to get a good night’s rest.

In my spare time, I train to run marathons and practise martial arts, and once won the British National Taekwondo Poomsae Championship (2009).

Remember to take the best care of yourself that you can and follow Dr. Seuss’s advice. “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Dr Josephine "JoJo" Head, PhD

Research Scientist and Lead Instructor

  • Evolutionary biology and diets
  • Food and nutrition science
  • Behavioural change
  • Published 15 scientific studies

Originally trained as an Anthropologist at Durham University, after graduating I was keen to pursue a career in Primatology - a decision which led to me living in the rainforests of Central Africa for the next seven years. After volunteering for six months in the Republic of Congo with chimpanzees orphaned by the bushmeat trade, I went on to work in Gabon for the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. Here I established a new project in Loango National Park, where I studied the feeding ecology and habitat use of wild chimpanzees and gorillas and completed my PhD. Together with my colleagues at the Max Planck Institute I published the results of my research in high quality scientific journals. This work was my first introduction into the field of diet and nutrition, albeit with apes and not humans!

So how did this background lead to my working at The Health Sciences Academy? I have always had a particular interest in the evolutionary basis of human nutrition, health and disease, and how evolutionary adaptations which were once advantageous to our survival (e.g. laying down fat easily) have become so detrimental to human health in the modern world that we live in. I am also very interested in the interface between personal health, the environment and animal welfare, and I am passionate about increasing people’s engagement with these issues when making food choices. But I feel that consumers can quickly become overwhelmed by the mass of complicated and contradictory information which is thrown at them by marketeers and tabloid journalists, and I believe there is an urgent need to reduce this disconnect, filter out the fads and provide a solid understanding of the science of nutrition.

So working for The Health Sciences Academy was a very natural progression for me, a place where I can equip students with a sound scientific knowledge about the food they consume, combine my skills in critical research and writing with my passion for nutritional sciences; and where I can reach out and share fascinating insights with those who also want to make a difference.

Dr Goulven Josse, PhD

Research Scientist and Lead Instructor

  • Behavioural Neuroscience
  • Biochemistry and cell biology
  • Cravings and food addiction
  • Published 20 scientific studies

As an undergraduate, I studied biochemistry and cell biology at the Université de Caen (Normandy, France). As a graduate student, I decided to specialise in neuroimaging, taking advantage of Caen’s state-of-the-art brain mapping facility (CYCERON), one of the first built in Europe. This academic move brought me closer to psychology. Keeping my dominant foot in the field of biology, I gradually specialised in behavioural neuroscience.

I defended my PhD thesis in 2003, just before moving to the University of Chicago for 2 years, and then to University College London (UK) for another 2 ½ years . In 2009, I went back to France (Paris) where I successively worked for the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Brain and Spine Institute at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. These are all top global institutions  in biology and neuroscience. Together with my colleagues, we published research in the best scientific journals.

Today, I’m a proud instructor and researcher at The Health Sciences Academy. How did my career path lead me to nutrition? My broad experience in biology, from the molecular level all the way up to the psychological level allows me to tackle various questions. More importantly, the study of nutrition encompasses all these levels, from the food decisions you make to the way your body cells use nutrients to function. The digestive system itself is an extremely complex neural network and recent research suggests this topic is a source of major breakthroughs in health. How does taste emerge from brain activity and can you use that knowledge to help patients rediscover the pleasure of eating (or make your kids eat their veggies...)? Chili peppers give a burning sensation, but will they actually make your heartburns worse? Your kids LOVE junk food: why? And is this something we can’t change in them?...

Let me show you how neuroscience can shed a bright and fascinating light on nutrition!

Dr Chinmay R Munje, PhD

Research Scientist and Contributor

My zeal for research started early. As a kid I would, almost innocently, question everything – much to the annoyance of my teachers and peers. For my undergraduate, I learnt the dynamics of the human body, specifically in context of disease, when I studied Biomedical Sciences from the University of Central Lancashire (Preston, UK). I graduated with honours in 2008 and then pursued my doctoral studies to characterise the role of stress proteins in cancers, and graduated in July 2011 from the same university. As my career progressed I was involved in several research projects ranging from nanotechnology, pharmacy, arthritis, and stem cell biology and blood cancer. As a scientist, I love understanding the pathways/molecular mechanisms associated in a disorder. Why, When, What and How? These questions have been the driving force behind me. Solving problems, entering uncharted territories and pushing the ‘knowledge’ forward are some of the things I love.

I began to realise how food can treat various health problems, going back to Hippocrates dogma that ‘All disease begins in the gut’. I stumbled upon The Health Science Academy in my quest to gain more knowledge about nutrition and fitness. Things soon changed when I noticed a job vacancy and today I am a proud contributor at the Health Science Academy. With them I am able to address the health questions/concern that surrounds us. We aim to filter out ‘junk’ theories and focus on providing clear, succinct and precise information. I believe that knowledge is the ultimate power, with the right education we can make the world a healthier place to live in.

So come on board and feel empowered: ‘To find yourself, think for yourself" – Socrates.

Dr Laurent Dumartin, PhD

Research Scientist and Contributor

  • Biomedical science
  • Cell biology and physiopathology
  • Nutrition for disease prevention
  • Published 5 scientific studies

I was born and grew up in a little village in the south-west of France where I actively enjoyed all the delights this region has to offer - sunshine, beach, mountains, culture and amazing food! It is natural that I early developed a strong interest for all the important aspects to a good quality of life.

Passionate about health sciences, I received a PhD in Cellular Biology from the University of Bordeaux. To pursue my career in scientific research, I then decided to move to London and now work as a cancer researcher at the Barts Cancer Institute, a world-renowned centre in the field. My research studies have been published in the best scientific journals and cited by top leading scientists. My main focus is to understand the earliest mechanisms and causes of disease development. Understanding how a disease starts is a prerequisite for its prevention. I therefore became a nutrition enthusiast for both professional and personal development. The influence of nutrition on health is scientific evidence. However, people can often feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of nutritional messages they receive every day.

To nurture my passion for communicating science, I joined the Health Sciences Academy as a Contributor. I enjoy using my expertise and love for teaching to help people make simple and healthy food choices for them, their friends and family.

Sophie Ash, BSc (Hons) DipION DipLCM

Research Analyst and Nutritional Therapist

  • Nutrition and food science
  • Practical biochemistry
  • Gastroenterology
  • Nutritional endocrinology

I began further education with a view to becoming a Registered Dietitian. Throughout my dietetics studies at The University of Surrey, I achieved an excellent grounding of scientific knowledge, with subjects including microbiology, cell biology, molecular biology and genetics, physiology, pathology and medicine, and practical biochemistry and chemistry. Moving into my final year, I began to focus on nutritional sciences, studying applied dietetics, nutrition in health and disease, food science, nutrition education and health promotion, and sports and exercise nutrition. I received outstanding positive feedback for my final year research project and my supervisor, Professor Margaret Rayman, strongly suggested that I considered a career in nutrition research.

Prior to graduating, I was required to work as a Student Dietitian within the NHS. Throughout this time, I conducted daily-weekly GP clinics, completed appropriate documentation and correspondence, produced and delivered education sessions to patient groups, and prioritised and managed a weekly caseload of general medicine patients; this involved carrying out thorough clinical and nutritional assessments and designing, implementing and evaluating individualised care plans whilst working within a multidisciplinary team in hospital and community settings. This practical experience allowed me to identify my love for consultation work and strengths in health education.

Upon obtaining a (1st) Nutrition BSc Hons degree, I began further study in order to become a practising Nutritional Therapist. Alongside working as a Research Analyst for The Health Sciences Academy, this allows me to combine my strengths in nutrition research and health education with my love for seeing clients one-to-one in clinic. Through my highly valued, ever gratifying scientific research at The Health Sciences Academy, I am keen to continue scrutinising the science surrounding common myths and beliefs, helping students to discern the link between food and wellness.

Cassandra Ellis, MSc ANutr

Research Analyst and Science Writer

I studied Psychology as an undergrad which I thoroughly enjoyed learning. We learnt so much about human behaviour, it was fascinating. But we didn’t only learn about the behaviour, we learnt about the biological mechanisms behind these behaviours which affect decision making, how we perceive things, how we feel… (I could go on!).

Armed with this knowledge, and a passion for nutrition which I had never lost, I studied for an MSc in Human Nutrition. Combining these two disciplines has allowed me to focus on what motivates people when it comes to food choice, how the food industry affects the nutrition decisions we make (their goal is to make money after all), and how we can use intervention strategies to improve public health.

My MSc thesis was on the effects of cost led marketing on macronutrient intakes.  After many weeks of interviewing individuals on the key motivators for their purchases, it was clear to me that people were confused by an overload of conflicting nutrition messages leading their decisions to be made from the pocket, rather than the (healthy) heart.

It is important to me that people understand the importance of good nutrition for their health. To understand that, they must know what good nutrition is. This message should not be based on preconceptions or marketing schemes, it must be based on scientific research. And this research must be currently interpreted and communicated. It is the responsibility of researchers and science communicators, to help the public make informed decisions and about their health.

That is why I am driven by research, but more importantly, how that research is disseminated and communicated, and believe our work at The Health Sciences Academy plays a vital role in helping individuals understand how to use nutrition to support their health.

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