When the human genome sequence was launched in 2000, it introduced the possibility of personalization in health care. Such personalization can be applied to nutrition, a key health determinant, to create a diet tailored specifically for an individual, according to their individual physical and genetic make-up. Food4Me is a new, EU (FP7) funded project investigating the potential of this personalized nutrition.
Studies have shown that individuals respond differently to various nutrients. For example, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, the 'healthy fats' found in oily fish that are believed to protect against cardiovascular disease, have been found to be more beneficial in individuals with a particular genetic make-up (Ferguson et al., 2010). The point is, we are all different, and so the way we respond to our diet is also different. Such research suggests that blanket public dietary advice is not the most effective technique for improving public health.
Rather than applying overarching dietary guidance to the whole population, personalized nutrition sets the individual apart to consider their specific physical and genetic characteristics. This practice has been touted as the future of nutrition with significant potential to improve public health. The early promise has not quite lived up to this expectation however, and despite the efforts of numerous companies there has been limited success.
Food4Me will investigate the possibility of designing better diets based on a person's genetic make-up. A renowned group of experts will examine the application of nutrigenomic research (studies of the effect of food on gene expression) to personalized nutrition. How can we use our understanding of food and our genes to design a better, healthier and more individual diet?
Food4Me, a 4 year project coordinated by Professor Mike Gibney of the Institute of Food and Health, University College Dublin (UCD), will consider all aspects of personalized nutrition; from investigating consumer understanding to producing technologies for implementation and investigating gene expression in response to diet. "In employing this holistic approach we hope to draw together cutting-edge research and instigate a significant step forward in the field of personalized nutrition," said Gibney.
A major component of the study is a large multi-centre human intervention study investigating the effectiveness of personalized nutrition. The study will offer participants differing levels of dietary advice; tailored to individual physical characteristics, individual genetic make-up, as well as advice with no personalization. Over a thousand subjects will be recruited from eight EU countries to take part in the study. Research to determine the effectiveness of personalized nutrition and develop appropriate technologies for its implementation will be supported by investigation of the public's needs and perceptions.
All results will be consolidated in the design of business and value creation models for the development, production and distribution of personalized foods. These will be tested throughout the project in order to consider the feasibility of future personalized nutrition approaches. Ethical and legal issues will also be assessed and will help shape the framework for the outcomes of the consumer studies, business models and human intervention research.
The data gathered in the project will feed into the development of services to deliver personalized advice on food choice.
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