$10M for precision nutrition honors Joan Klein Jacobs ’54

The College of Human Ecology (CHE) has received a $10 million commitment from Joan Klein Jacobs ’54 and Irwin M. Jacobs ’54, BEE ’56, to support the college’s new Center for Precision Nutrition and Health. The gift will endow the center’s executive directorship, two postdoctoral fellowships and funds to advance faculty innovation and student experiential learning – all named in honor of Joan Jacobs as a dedicated alumna of the college.

The gift will also expand the center’s portfolio of research and programs in the emerging field of precision nutrition, which delivers tailored dietary recommendations based on a person’s genetics, gut microbes and other biological, environmental and social factors. The center’s ultimate goal is to develop interventions that will improve health outcomes at both the individual and population level.

“With one of the nation’s largest and most prolific academic research and training programs in nutritional sciences, Cornell is a major driver of the research, and the translation to impact, necessary to achieve precision nutrition’s full potential for human health,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “This extraordinary gift will empower the next generation of nutritional scientists to leverage advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science to improve lives.”

Realizing the vast potential for nutrition science to inform preventative treatments for a range of health conditions – from autoimmune and neurologic diseases to cancer and diabetes – the National Institutes of Health (NIH) established precision nutrition as a pillar of its 2020-30 Strategic Plan for Nutrition Research. In 2022, CHE was the co-recipient of a $23 million NIH grant to coordinate research for the NIH’s Nutrition for Precision Health study, and earlier this year, the college received a $1.7 million NIH grant to develop a program that combines precision nutrition with advanced data science and analytical methods. Last month, the NIH funded a new center for the engineering, testing and commercializing of point-of-care diagnostic devices, led by an interdisciplinary team at Cornell.

“Poor nutrition and diet-related causes are major contributors to death, disability and compromised quality of life in the U.S. and globally,” said Rachel Dunifon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. “I am enormously grateful to Joan and Irwin for this gift, which will amplify Cornell’s distinction at the leading edge of nutritional sciences and public health.”

Joan and Irwin Jacobs are renowned for their philanthropy at Cornell, in San Diego and around the world, having donated hundreds of millions of dollars to support causes including education, health care and the arts. The couple’s extraordinary generosity to Cornell includes the naming gift for the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech; establishing the Jacobs Scholarships in Engineering and Jacobs Fellowships in Electrical and Computer Engineering; and establishing the Jacobs Professorship and Fellowship in Human Ecology, as well as sponsoring the Jacobs Challenge to raise additional endowed professorships in Human Ecology.

As a student at Cornell, Joan Jacobs majored in nutrition and was trained as a dietician. As a young graduate, she worked for Groton Central Schools while Irwin continued his studies at Cornell. She later worked at Boston Lying-in Hospital (now Brigham and Women’s Hospital) while Irwin completed his Sc.D. and joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1966, the couple and their four sons moved to California when Irwin accepted a position at the University of California, San Diego, later founding Linkabit and Qualcomm.

As a longtime member of the San Diego community, Joan Jacobs has focused her energies on numerous community groups and committees – and elevated the arts, sciences and education throughout the city and more broadly. In 2015, she received the CHE’s highest alumni honor, the Helen Bull Vandervort Award, in recognition of her efforts and achievements.

“Irwin and I are delighted for this opportunity to further invest in the College of Human Ecology – while at the same time helping to advance cutting-edge research in nutrition, which is such a vital aspect of human health and well-being,” Joan Jacobs said. “We have great confidence in Cornell’s strengths in nutrition, technology, data science and interdisciplinary research, and we are excited to be a part of the Center for Precision Nutrition and Health’s future success.”

The Center for Precision Nutrition and Health is directed by Human Ecology faculty Dr. Saurabh Mehta, the Janet and Gordon Lankton Professor, with co-director Patricia Cassano, the Alan D. Mathios Professor and the director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences. Established in 2022, the center aims to usher in a new era of nutrition research that leverages recent technological advances,

“This investment in the Center will transform the practice of and training in nutrition at Cornell. It will also ensure CHE’s and Cornell’s continued leadership in making precision nutrition and health guidance widely available to all to advance health care in the US and globally,” Mehta said.   

Robin Roger is assistant dean for communications in the College of Human Ecology.

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