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US National Institutes of Health launches landmark study into precision nutrition

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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The United States’ medical research agency National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a new study to advance national research in precision nutrition.

The Nutrition for Precision Health (NPH) study will work with 14 medical research institutions across Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and North Carolina to complete the research.

These include Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Tufts University, University of California Davis, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Nutrition Research Institute Clinic, among others.

NIH is looking to enrol 10,000 participants from diverse backgrounds onto the study to better understand how different people react to what they consume.

The NPH study will analyse how an individual’s genes, health history, gut microbiome, lifestyle, living or working conditions, and age, impact their response to food. Artificial-intelligence and machine learning technology will be used to assess the information provided by participants and develop algorithms that predict how an individual responds to a particular dietary pattern.

Researchers working on the study say the results obtained could help US health practitioners deliver more tailored nutritional guidance to patients.

The NIH was awarded $170 million in January 2022 to carry out the research over a five year period.

Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, Ph.D., said in a statement: “Nutrition for Precision Health brings us a step closer to precision medicine. The study will generate a massive dataset, a wealth of biospecimens and the algorithms that will lead to personalized dietary prescriptions that can promote health, prevent heart attacks or strokes, and importantly, address health disparities”.

The study will be split into three components. In the first part, all participants will be asked to complete surveys, report on their everyday diets, and give blood, urine and stool samples for lab tests and microbiome analysis. In the second component, one subset group will be asked to follow diets selected by researchers, with some participants being invited to stay at a research centre while following the selected diet.

Those engaging in all three parts of the study will also participate in ‘meal challenge tests’ that calculate the biological shifts occurring after eating specific foods or drinks prescribed by the researchers. Following their participation, individuals will receive detailed information on their body fat percentage, microbiome makeup, metabolism, and diet composition.

To take part in the study, individuals must be over 18 and be enrolled in the NIH ‘All of Us Research Programme’, which is seeking contribution from at least one million US citizens to create a more accurate health database and accelerate development of medical research around precision nutrition.

All data obtained from the NPH study will be linked to information gathered through the All of Us programme, such as genetics information, and data from electronic health records and extra surveys. The results will be made available on the programme’s data platform, the Researcher Workbench, which will in turn be used for future studies on health and disease in the US.

“Nutrition is perhaps one of the most powerful medicines we have available, but is among the least understood,” said Geoffrey Ginsburg, M.D., Ph.D., All of Us’ Chief Medical and Scientific Officer. “By tapping into the All of Us infrastructure and platform, NPH will be set apart from other nutrition studies by its scale and diversity. The value of NPH will be amplified by the research community as new data types are made broadly available in the Researcher Workbench to explore and advance our understanding of nutrition and health.”

The personalised nutrition sector is gaining momentum in the UK too. In March 2023, precision nutrition app ZOE secured £2 million in funding from Dragons’ Den’s Steven Bartlett. So far, some 62,000 people have signed up to the app-based programme, where participants complete a range of tests on blood fat, gut microbiome, and blood sugar to see how they respond to food.

Download Food Matters Live’s free Inspiring Nutrition Guide


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