Vitafoods Insights is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Epigenetic solutions for tailored nutritional interventions [Interview]

Article-Epigenetic solutions for tailored nutritional interventions [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights Epigenetic solutions for tailored nutritional interventions [Interview]
Understanding how specific dietary choices can influence gene expression and affect our susceptibility to age-related conditions and diseases, could enable the delivery of more effective, tailored nutritional interventions.

Epigenetics is the study of how behaviour and environment can cause changes that affect the way our genes work. These insights could help us to better understand how lifestyle choices influence molecular modifications related to health.

Dr Varun Dwaraka, head of bioinformatics and principal investigator at TruDiagnostic, is at the cutting edge of this field.

Genes are really like a circuit board of different switches,” he says. “What causes these switches to change? This is where epigenetics comes in - we now know that upstream, environmental factors can alter the gene expression, or cause these switches to change.

As such, epigenetics presents a yet untapped opportunity in health diagnostics. While genetics are more hardwired, epigenetics change with the environment, nutrition, and types of exercise. This provides a more actionable metric, Dr Dwaraka argues, to investigate the impact of nutritional interventions.

Interpreting epigenetic data

A great deal of Dr Dwaraka’s work involves finding new and better ways of identifying and interpreting epigenetic data. He currently leads a team of researchers at TruDiagnostic, implementing machine learning methods to identify epigenetic biomarkers and generate predictive algorithms. His work has been published in numerous peer-reviewed publications.

I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area,” says Dr Dwaraka. “Being from the heart of Silicon Valley, the idea of things being driven by technology has always been around me. As epigenetics is driven by environment, I think this explains a great deal of why I went down this route.

Before completing his PhD at the University of Kentucky, Dr Dwaraka attended the University of California Santa Cruz, where he studied molecular, cellular and developmental biology. UC Santa Cruz is also where the first draft of the human genome was assembled, and this in part inspired Dr Dwaraka’s journey into genomics.

I attended as many classes as possible, focusing on the interplay between technology and biology,” he says. “I found bioinformatics to be a really useful way of looking at big data.

Molecular diagnostics for health assessments

Dr Dwaraka will deliver a session at the Vitafoods Europe Conference 2024 under the immune and gut health theme. This session will explore in detail some of the pioneering work that TruDiagnostic has been conducting, and what opportunities this presents for the nutrition sector.

Nutrition dictates health,” he says. “Changes in nutrition affect epigenetic marks in an individual, which can change how an individual’s genetics are interpreted (e.g., mutations can be masked through epigenetics). Developing tools which survey epigenetic changes in response to nutritional products is key in understanding an aspect of health which is usually overlooked.

In particular, Dr Dwaraka intends to delve into how epigenetic testing can be applied in the field of nutrition diagnostics. A key focus will be on utilising epigenetic testing as a tool to assess the relationship between nutrition, biological health, molecular changes, and overall well-being.

Epigenetic opportunities in the nutrition sector

For example, a recent research paper demonstrated how epigenetic biomarkers identified by TruDiagnostic change in ways that make sense within the context of a vegan diet, or an omnivore diet.

What this means is that we showed that these epigenetic biomarker proxies (EBPs) change with diet type,” says Dr Dwaraka. “My presentation at Vitafoods will be about how the nutrition industry can utilise these epigenetic tools, to really get a more personalised understanding of how nutrition affects your biology.

This, Dr Dwaraka hopes, will help to bring epigenetic testing and tools to a wider audience. “There is huge potential here for validating the impact of products and supplements,” he says. “We are currently doing a lot of work with supplement companies here. Say, for example, you have a nutritional supplement, and you are touting that it improves health in a particular way. How can you show this? We think that epigenetics provides an effective way of really measuring the effectiveness of nutritional interventions.