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HuiChuan J. Lai, PhD, RD

Assistant Professor
Department of Nutritional Sciences
Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics
Department of Pediatrics

1415 Linden Drive, Rm 340E
Madison, WI, 53706-1562
Phone: 608-262-9972
Fax: 608-262-5860
E-mail: lai at nutrisci.wisc.edu, lai at biostat.wisc.edu

Dr. Lai's personal page



Research Interests

Population and epidemiological research linking nutrition and disease outcomes in children.

My research focuses on understanding how nutrition affects the onset and progression of pediatric chronic diseases. Currently, our projects focus on 3 diseases: cystic fibrosis, obesity, and asthma.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common life-threatening genetic disorder caused by mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane regulator (CFTR) gene (CFTR mutation database). The most common mutation, DF508, occurs in 70% of defective CFTR alleles and 90% of CF patients. There are over 35,000 Americans living with CF in 2005, and approximately 1000 infants are born with CF every year in the US. Clinical manifestations of CF include high electrolyte levels in sweat, pancreatic insufficiency, meconium ileus at birth (resultant from neonatal intestinal obstruction), malnutrition, and progressive obstructive lung disease with recurrent respiratory infections. Although CF is present at birth, delayed diagnosis is common.  Although CF is present at birth, delayed diagnosis is common. Only 5% of CF patients are diagnosed shortly after bith by newborn screening (Wisconsin is the pioneer for implementing CF newborn screening). Almost half of the CF patients are not diagnosed, and thus untreated, until after age one year. This delay results in high prevlance of malnutrition; nearly half of the newly diagnosed CF children are presented with growth failure. CF cannot be cured; the median age of survival was 36 years in 2005, but one-third die before the age of 20, primarily from pulmonary failure. My CF research emphasizes the development of risk models predictive of nutritional outcomes, pulmonary progression, and their relationships to quality of life and survival. The ultimate goal is to improve the diagnosis, treatment and health outcomes for individuals suffering from CF. (more)

Asthma and obesity represent the two most common chronic conditions in children in the US. Diet as an environmental risk factor for asthma was first hypothesized in the late 1980s based on the observation that the rising prevalence of asthma coincided with a marked change in typical American diets characteristic of decreased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and increased consumption of high-calorie, high-fat foods. In addition, the observation that asthmatic individuals tend to weigh more than those without asthma, led to the speculation that obesity may be a potential risk factor for asthma, and vice versa. By utilizing an epidemiological cohort established in Wisconsin in 1998 to identify Childhood Origins of Asthma (COAST), we designed a Nutrition Study to investigate the hypothesis that diet is a common risk factor for obesity and asthma and that occurrence of obesity and asthma are related during the first decade of life. Proving co-morbidity between childhood asthma and obesity has important public health implications for the prevention and treatment of these two diseases. (more)


  Selected Publications (complete publication list)


Lai HC, Kosorok MR, Sondel SA, Chen ST, FitzSimmons SC, Green C, Shen G, Walker S and Farrell PM. Growth status in children with cystic fibrosis based on National Cystic Fibrosis Patient Registry data: evaluation of various criteria to identify malnutrition. J. Pediatr. 1998;132:478-85. [Abstract]

Lai HC, Corey M, FitzSimmons SC, Kosorok MR and Farrell PM. Comparison of growth status in patients with cystic fibrosis in the United States and Canada. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1999; 69:531-538 [Abstract]

Add: Shoff SM, Ahn H, Davis LA, Lai HJ. Temporal associations between energy intake, plasma linoleic acid and growth improvement in response to treatment initiation after diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. Pediatrics 2006;117:391-400. [Abstract]

Lai HC, FitzSimmons SC, Allen DB, Kosorok MR, Rosenstein BJ, Campbell P and Farrell PM. Persistent growth impairment in children with cystic fibrosis following treatment of alternate-day prednisone. New Engl J Med. 2000;342(12): 851-859.[Abstract]

Lai HC, Kosorok MR, Laxova A, Farrell PM. Delayed diagnosis in females with cystic fibrosis in the United States. Am J Epiemiol 2002;156:165-173.[Abstract]

Zhang Z, Lai HC. Comparison of body mass index percentile and percentage of body weight for screening malnutrition in children with cystic fibrosis. Am J Clin Nutr 2004; 80:982-991. [Abstract]


  Courses Taught  
  Spring 2003 - present: Nutri Sci 431 Nutrition in the Life Cycle
Fall 2004 - present: Nutri Sci 631 Clinical Nutrition
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