Susan Sumner, PhD

Department of Nutrition
School of Pharmacology


Susan Sumner, PhD is a Professor of Nutrition at UNC Chapel Hill’s Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), and the Director of the Metabolomics and Exposome Laboratory (MEL) at UNC Chapel Hill. Dr. Sumner is working to make personalized medicine and precision nutrition a reality. Using state-of-the-art metabolomics and exposome technologies, Dr. Sumner’s team determines how molecules that are present in our tissues and biological fluids are associated with states of health and wellness. Through this approach, biomarkers are discovered that can lead to new diagnostics for the early detection and diagnosis of disease, to monitor treatment and intervention, and to inform the development of intervention strategies.

The Sumner-Lab uses analytical methods to detect tens of thousands of signals for molecules that are present in biological specimens (such as urine, serum, plasma, feces, sweat, tissues, and cells). Using untargeted metabolomics, signals are detected for metabolites that are derived from endogenous metabolic process, such as neurotransmitters, hormones and steroids, sugars, amino acids, purines and pyrimidines, lipids, fatty acids, and vitamins and essential nutrients. Signals are also detected for metabolites derived from a wide range of exposures, including metabolites derived from ingestion of foods, intake of medications or drugs of abuse, and environmentally relevant chemicals. Natural occurring chemicals found in foods (e.g., folate, choline) and beverages (e.g., polyphenols, benzoate) have been associated with both positive and negative health responses. Perturbations in endogenous metabolism have been associated with many prescribed and over the counter medications, as well as illicit drugs. Metabolites of many environmentally relevant chemicals are also detected (including phthalates, pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, parabens, brominated flame retardants, tobacco products, phenols, and volatile organic compounds) which have been linked with a variety of adverse health outcomes – including obesity, cognitive delay and decline, reproductive effects, and cancer.

Dr. Sumner’s research activities in Personalized Medicine and Precision Nutrition span several domain areas of Maternal and Child Health, Diabetes and Kidney Disease, Toxicology, Cancer, Microbiome, and Addiction. In 2019, she received a grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to discover biomarkers and mechanisms associated with Cardiovascular Disease. She has served as the PI of a grant funded through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to use metabolomics to reveal noninvasive markers of drug-induced liver injury, and as PI of the NIH Common Fund Eastern Regional Comprehensive Metabolomics Resource Core (ERCMRC). She currently directs the Metabolomics Core for the UNC Chapel Hill Nutrition Obesity Resource Center (NORC, funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIDDK), and an Exposome Core for the Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR) program (funded by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, NIEHS).

In August of 2019, Dr. Sumner received a grant to develop new tools and conduct untargeted analysis for the NIEHS-funded Human Health Exposure Analysis Resource (HHEAR) Program. Under this grant, untargeted analysis will be used to study the complex interactions between environmental exposures throughout the lifespan and human health outcomes. In 2022, her team received an award from NCI as the NIH Common Fund Metabolomics and Clinical Assay Center as part of the NIH Nutrition for Precision Health Consortium powered by All of Us. In this role, her Center will help develop algorithms that predict individual’s responses to dietary intake. 

Dr. Sumner earned a B.S. and Ph.D. in the Department of Chemistry at North Carolina State University and conducted postdoctoral research at NHLBI.

Susan Sumner in the Gillings News