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NIH Begins Large-Scale Precision Nutrition Study

Farmers market

(A. Kotok)

21 Jan. 2021. National Institutes of Health awarded new funds for academic and industry labs to develop algorithms for predicting individual responses to food and nutrition. The 11 new and three additional funding grants total $170 million over five years, to kick off the Nutrition for Precision Health project as part of NIH’s All of Us precision health initiative.

Nutrition for Precision Health seeks to learn more about the factors that determine an individual’s optimum nutrition regimen. Research up to now has identified many variables affecting nutrition and health, such as genetics, environment, socioeconomic status, lifestyle, metabolism, and communities of microbes in the gut known as the microbiome. But we still don’t understand, says NIH, how those factors interact to affect an individual’s nutrition, which is a key aim of the project.

“We know that nutrition, just like medicine, isn’t one-size-fits-all,” says Nutrition for Precision Health or NPH coordinator Holly Nicastro, in an NIH statement. “NPH will take into account an individual’s genetics, gut microbes, and other lifestyle, biological, environmental, or social factors to help each individual develop eating recommendations that improve overall health.”

Predict individual dietary responses

NPH plans to enroll 10,000 individuals already taking part in the All of Us project. The All of Us program seeks to gain better insights into biological, environmental, and behavioral factors that influence an individual’s health, taking into account a person’s lifestyle as well as his or her specific molecular makeup. All of Us is taking advantage of the wider availability and lower cost of genomic sequencing as well as expansion in the use of electronic medical records. The initiative is recruiting 1 million participants to provide a wide range of personal health data, including from fitness devices, as reported by Science & Enterprise in Jan. 2019.

Nutrition for Precision Health expects to compile data from its 10,000 participants to better understand interactions among genes, microbiome, protein, metabolism, and other variables that contribute to individual differences in dietary response. Those data will then help write algorithms using techniques from artificial intelligence to predict individual dietary responses, which will later be validated for clinical use.

The 14 NPH awards include 11 grants with new funds for academic labs and research institutes, of which are six are clinical research centers. Three of the awards are supplemental grants to researchers already taking part in the All of Us program. One of the three supplemental grants is awarded to Vibrent Health, a digital health service company in Fairfax, Virginia. In 2017, Vibrent Health received a $75 million award to provide precision health data support for the All of Us initiative.

The new funds are expected to extend Vibrent Health’s databases, compiled and collected for the All of Us program, to include data on diet and nutrition collected by NPH. “Our technology and expertise,” say Vibrent Health founder and CEO Praduman Jain in a company statement, “enable the NPH and the All of Us research program’s nationwide network of health research partners to recruit, electronically consent, engage, and support the diverse participants of the precision nutrition cohort.”

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