Health & Human Sciences
Tammy Bray grew up in Taiwan after Chiang Kai–shek’s anti–communist forces fled ahead of the People’s Liberation Army sweeping across mainland China. But wars and revolutions never darkened Bray’s childhood. Her father, a legal advisor to Chiang, and her mother, a striking beauty, wrapped their children in a cocoon of Chinese tradition, shielding them against the strife raging in the wider world.
Integrity, honor, diligence, optimism: These are the ancient values she carried with her as she boarded a jet bound for the United States, a graduate of Fu Jen Catholic University with a full scholarship to study nutrition at Washington State. In her suitcase she carried a scroll inscribed with rules to live by, ancestral wisdom hand–lettered by her father. "Treasure your reputation more than you treasure your life" was at the top of the list.
These values drive Bray even today, more than three decades after her first trans–Pacific flight. She came to the deanship of OSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences from Ohio State University in 2002 as a top–tier researcher and a straight–shooting leader who expects 100 percent from her team. In her self–described role as the "catalyst" for excellence and innovation at OSU’s fourth–largest college, she constantly encourages her faculty and staff to "kick it up a notch." The only person she drives harder is herself, as she continues an active research program in the midst of her duties as dean.
Her passion for science took hold at WSU in the rigorous graduate courses in cellular biology and biochemistry that she aced. "I was fascinated by processes that I couldn’t see, yet were so well–regulated and have such great influence at the whole–person level," she says.
That fascination has never waned during her quarter–century’s research into the secrets of what she terms "bionutrition" — the way foods affect biological systems such as immunity, hormones and genetics. For example, Bray works with nutrition scientist Emily Ho in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences on the interaction of diet, hormones and prostate cancer, a project that has been funded by the National Institutes of Health for the last three years. They are testing the idea that persistently high levels of the hormones estrogen and testosterone set the stage for inflammation and cell proliferation. They are seeking compounds in fresh fruits and vegetables that can modulate these processes. Their work is part of the growing field of "epigenetics," the idea that gene function is affected by dietary and other chemicals in the environment.
Diabetes prevention is her continuing interest in the area of bionutrition. In her lab, Bray and research associate, Carmen Wong, are studying the links between diet, immunity and diabetes. They are addressing the causes of Type I diabetes, which, along with obesity, has tripled in children and adolescents in the last 20 years. In experiments with mice, Bray and Wong are investigating the idea that obesity plays a role in the susceptibility of children to the disease through the hormone leptin. They are looking for compounds in foods that affect the regulation of leptin–producing genes and slow development of disease.
Despite her love of science, Bray’s microscope always takes a backseat to her personal integrity. "At the end of the day, you want to be known as a good, reputable person in science, administration and personal life," she says. "Then you can sleep well."