When Silvia Berciano Benitez had the opportunity to join the Nutrition & Genomics Lab at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) in 2016, she moved from her native country of Spain to Boston to pursue her research goals in the field of Personalized Nutrition.
She is now finishing up her PhD in Pharmacology and Physiology from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, and working toward her PhD in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition (BMN) at the Friedman School, but her involvement extends much farther than the lab to entrepreneurship, leadership, and beyond.
“We are super passionate about our startup because we are the very first company to offer truly personalized nutrition from day one, even before the baby is conceived,” said Berciano.
As a biologist and geneticist by training, Berciano was highly motivated to enter the BMN program, as she sought to learn more about how nature and nurture contribute to dietary behaviors and health outcomes. She is especially enthusiastic about how personalized nutrition can help people live healthier and longer lives. “Research and discovery are my true passions,” says Berciano. Her current research investigates both the genetic and lifestyle predictors of an individual's dietary adherence in order to understand the complex interactions between the two. This research could help develop personalized strategies, paving the way to improvements in helping people 'stick' to their diets. Berciano expressed gratitude for the many cross-disciplinary opportunities offered through her coursework. She emphasized that gaining additional knowledge and skills in the fields of Epidemiology and Statistics has proven to be very valuable during her research endeavors.
In 2017, another unexpected door opened for Berciano when she enrolled in the Friedman School’s Nutrition and Entrepreneurship class. She had grown up surrounded by a culture of entrepreneurship, having been inspired by the businesses started by her uncles and cousins, but admitted that she had “never learned the rules of the game before.” Through her coursework she learned how to develop her ideas into a business, then went on to enter the Tufts Food and Nutrition Entrepreneurship Competition and win the Audience Choice Award. Her team’s business, Ethos Genomics, focuses on providing personalized nutrition advice to women planning for pregnancy based on their genes, lifestyle, and nutritional biomarkers. “We are super passionate about our startup because we are the very first company to offer truly personalized nutrition from day one, even before the baby is conceived,” said Berciano. Ethos uses a systems biology approach to help women make dietary choices that promote their health and the health of their babies before, during, and after pregnancy. “Tufts has really lit the fire of entrepreneurship in me,” she said. And for Berciano, there’s no turning back now.
“In different ways, Friedman is preparing every one of us to fight for better nutrition and make a positive impact with the knowledge and skills we’ve gained here.”
Having traveled so far to pursue her PhD at Tufts, gaining a sense of community in Boston and at Friedman was also important to Berciano. She will be finishing her third term as co-chair of the Friedman Student Council at the end of May and remarked on what an honor it has been to serve on the council and represent her fellow students. Tying her back to entrepreneurship, Berciano also served as a Teaching Assistant for Friedman’s Nutrition and Innovation course. She said that “witnessing students develop solutions to real world problems was truly powerful,” and encouraged students to go out and translate their ideas into action.
When Berciano first arrived at Friedman, she already knew the school as a trusted voice in Nutrition Science and Policy. Now, she is excited to see the innovation ecosystem growing around the school’s entrepreneurship programming. “In different ways, Friedman is preparing every one of us to fight for better nutrition and make a positive impact with the knowledge and skills we’ve gained here,” she said. As she nears completion of her doctoral thesis, and continues to develop Ethos Genomics, Berciano sees her future in the fields of Personalized Nutrition and entrepreneurship as "a great adventure that has just begun."
Author Serena Baldwin is a first year M.S. student in the Division of Food and Nutrition Policy and Programs.