Our laboratory is concerned with three areas, requirements for polyunsaturated fatty acids in the perinatal period, development of advanced analytical chemical instrumentation, particularly mass spectrometry, for biomedical applications, and development of high precision isotope ratio mass spectrometry for anti-doping applications. Our polyunsaturated fatty acid work focuses on factors that influence demand for omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, notably prematurity, and most of our studies are conducted in non-human primates. Our instrumentation work is aimed at development of high precision isotope ratio mass spectrometry for tracer applications and for detection of natural physiological isotopic fractionation. Stable isotope tracer studies of omega-3 fatty acids focus on brain and associated organ development and on improvement of mass spectrometry-based instrumentation for fatty acid studies. Our most recent work involves improvement of methods for detection of illicit doping with performance-enhancing steroids in the context of elite athletics.
Brenna completed studies in Nutrition and in Chemistry, and his formative
research experiences were broadly interdisciplinary.
Professionally, this is reflected in graduate field memberships in fields that
are centered in Cornell's four large colleges: Nutrition (CHE and CALS), Food
Science and Technology (CALS); Chemistry and Chemical
Biology (Arts); Geological
Sciences (Engineering and CALS), and in a long-standing collaboration
with a prominent former member of Cornell's College of
Veterinary Medicine. His research group has been
funded by three institutes at the NIH (NIGMS, NEI, NICHD) and has included at least one
active R01 continuously since 1992. These grants have supported
fundamental work in the nutrition of polyunsaturated
fatty acids, and development of advanced mass spectrometry
instrumentation and techniques.
Most of the work of the Brenna Lab ties basic research to public health, and is ultimately motivated by potential application to specific health issues. Some studies are designed with particular, topical public health questions in mind, and the data from these studies has occasionally had immediate implications for public health. The most prominent examples of this type of work are studies in baboons and in piglets to evaluate the efficacy, safety, and metabolism of food sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids. This work often employs stable isotope tracer techniques and molecular mass spectrometry to probe metabolism. Other projects, particularly those that develop instrumentation and methods for mass spectrometry techniques, have a longer term payoff. They are sometimes undertaken for the challenge of making measurements that have never been possible previously, but usually have eventual applications. An example of this area is the development of a novel gas phase reaction for derivatization of polyunsaturated fatty acids for facile determination of double bond structure, which has found applications associated with safety of edible oils, including detection of trans fatty acids. The most recent work involves development of methods for more precise and rapid detection of endogenous performance enhancing drugs, particularly testosterone.