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A roadmap towards making precision nutrition a reality [Interview]

Article-A roadmap towards making precision nutrition a reality [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights A roadmap towards making precision nutrition a reality [Interview]
While precision nutrition offers huge potential in the delivery of tailored dietary recommendations, a number of challenges must first be overcome to accelerate the shift from personalised to precision nutrition, says Professor Vimal Karani.

Vimal Karani, professor of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics at the University of Reading in the UK, has devoted his career to advancing personalised nutrition. He is also deputy director for the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, and has carried out a great deal of research into how healthy lifestyles can overcome the genetic risk of cardiometabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

My focus has been global, taking into consideration not only European countries but also lower- and middle-income countries,” Karani explains. “There is plenty of data for western populations, and personalised nutrition companies in the UK and Europe are trying to provide solutions for most of the people. There is a lack of such evidence however in developing countries. This continues to be a key barrier to providing personalised nutrition for all.

A global perspective on nutrition

With that in mind, Karani launched a large-scale collaborative study about a decade ago, with the focus very much on lower- and middle-income countries. Over the course of ten years, around 50 publications have been published, with reference to different regions and countries. Karani believes that more in-depth studies and data are still needed, in order to get to the next level of personalised nutrition.

This will be a key message of my presentation at the Future of Nutrition Summit,” he says. “People differ in their genetics, nutritional requirements, and responses to nutrients, and some of this boils down to ethnicity. We need more data on people from Asia, Africa, and South America.

This more holistic research approach, Karani believes, will help to accelerate the shift from personalised to precision nutrition. “Precision nutrition is about going to the next level of detail,” says Karani. “It is about taking a holistic, comprehensive approach. Dietary recommendations are based on all data available - genetic, microbiome, health status, dietary patterns, ethnicity, taste perception, socioeconomic status - and even early life.

Challenges to achieving precision nutrition

Karani notes that advances have been made. Scientists and researchers now have access to large sets of genomic data, in-depth data on gut health and the gut microbiome, and are using new ‘multi-omic’ approaches. What is needed now, he says, is more data.

We have identified nearly 800 genetic variants related to obesity, but these still only explain up to 5% of total variations. That means we still need to discover more than 90% of genetic variants, and personalised nutrition in this respect is still based largely on assumptions.

Another challenge is that everyone’s gut microbiome is in constant flux, with metabolites and microorganisms changing all the time. This again makes it difficult to make assumptions about what someone’s ideal diet should be.

Machine learning and cohort-based studies

In his presentation, Karani intends to highlight the potential of machine learning approaches in overcoming these challenges. Researchers are already working on integrating big datasets into machine learning models, and developing algorithms to design personalised diets.

For this, we need large cohort-based studies, with screening right from birth,” he says. “A key message I would like to send to researchers is that they please start gathering this information, because this is going to be very useful!

Exciting new areas of research include metabolomics, and also metabonomics. This is about looking at low-weight metabolites, which we know play a key role in maintaining glucose levels. Karani will also highlight at the Vitafoods Europe Future of Nutrition Summit the importance of looking at multiple genetic variations, and developing a genetic risk score for specific cohorts.

What I try to do in my research is identify what percentage of the population has a high genetic risk, and how this can be addressed,” he says. “For this, all data needs to be taken into consideration.

Karani’s presentation at Vitafoods Europe, entitled ‘Precision Nutrition: Hype or hope for the prevention of cardiometabolic diseases?’ will examine in depth this exciting area of cutting-edge research, and bring to light many of the practical implications and opportunities for both industry and consumers.