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Moving nutrigenomics to human studies

29th June, 2012

A review of the current global position of nutrigenomics, published in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology, calls for the science and medical community to recognise how this science could increase understanding of how to treat Crohn’s disease patients.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that has no certain cure. Genetic susceptibility and nutrition are key, but their level of involvement varies between patients. The genetics of a patient with Crohn’s disease will influence the probability of the disease developing, but stress and environmental factors, including diet, will affect the symptoms.

Nutrigenomics uses high-throughput genomics technologies to identify the extent to which an individual is affected by diet at a molecular level. This will allow the dietary triggers to be identified - in individuals with the genetic profiles linked to Crohn’s -through analysis of the changes in the cell. The most widely used technique is transcriptomics, which allows scientists to measure changes in the expression of thousands of genes simultaneously in one sample.

More information is required to understand the links between triggers, genetic changes and symptoms, and this can be achieved only through human-based research. Nutrigenomics techniques, along with the computer-based data analysis required, have reached a point of maturity and costing that would allow the medical community to start incorporating the science into clinical research.

“Nutrigenomics has great promise in helping people with diseases affected by diet, such as Crohn’s disease,” says Professor Lynn Ferguson, from The University of Auckland, who is head of the Nutrigenomics New Zealand programme. “Techniques that analyse changes in the gene and protein expression in cells are now cost effective and fast enough that they could feasibly be used in clinical studies. We have demonstrated the ability of nutrigenomics on a theoretical level - now, the medical and scientific community need to work together to fulfil its potential in the clinic.”

Nutrigenomics New Zealand is a multidisciplinary research collaboration between Plant & Food Research, The University of Auckland and AgResearch, and funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation. The programme aims to determine how food and food composition affects health based on genetic information. Ultimately, the programme intends to develop gene-specific foods that prevent, control or cure disease. The initial target for the programme is Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel disorders. Approximately 15,000 people are affected by these disorders in New Zealand.

The review is the feature article in the latest issue of Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology

Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology 9, 260-270 (May 2012). doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2012.41