Expert consultation accelerates advances in nutrition science

By | November 12, 2018

Wellcome and the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted an expert meeting in October 2018 that brought together leading scientists and promising early-career researchers to invigorate nutrition science.

Cashew nuts in the shape of the human brain

Credit: Dan Salaman

The meeting’s aim was to break down scientific silos and stimulate innovative thinking.

This intensive 2.5-day meeting piloted a new way of working for Wellcome. Attendees were challenged to look at nutritional problems in a different way, working together to define the research priorities in this multi-faceted field.

At the end of the meeting the new groups pitched their ideas to a nutrition advisory panel convened specially for the meeting.

We’re pleased to announce that four of the ideas were successful and are being supported with pump-priming funds for a year. We hope the developed projects will then be able to apply for larger-scale funding.

1. DoMInO: Diet on Microbiome interactions for better Immune Outcomes

Aim: to use seasonal variation in vaccine response as an ‘experiment of nature’ to interrogate how diet-microbiome interactions might influence infant immune development.

Team: Sophie Moore, Andrew Prentice, Carlito Lebrilla, Ruairi Robertson and Eran Elinav.

2. Nu-MET: NUDGES to Metabolically Characterise Nutritionally Compromised Individuals

Aim: to create an adaptive mechanistic research platform to investigate how nutritionally compromised individuals (at both ends of the nutrition spectrum) respond to metabolic challenges.

Team: Albert Koulman, Jay Berkely, Robert Bandsma, Jessica Farebrother and Lars Dragstead.

3. Enhance the Burn: Improving metabolic ‘burn’ to re-establish healthy skeletal and adipose metabolism

Aim: to generate a deeper understanding of muscle metabolism and nutritional status by investigating survivors of childhood cancer as a model for accelerated ageing.

Team: Steve Wooton, Mike Stevens, Marlou Dirks, Julian Hamilton-Shield, Helen Roche, Saaed Shoaie, Adil Mardinogl and Lars Dragstead.

4. Applying food science to inform diet choices and improve health

Aim: approach the concept of the nutritional value of weaning foods across the entire food pathway from crop variation to individual effects on metabolism and the microbiome.

Team: Luke Bell, Alan Walker, Emily Balskus, Cathrina Edwards, Margaret Kosek and Lindsay Hall.

Why this meeting was needed

Wherever we live, at any age, good nutrition is the foundation of health.

Patterns of malnutrition are changing. While the number of underweight and stunted children is decreasing in some countries, the number of children and adults who are overweight and obese is increasing in virtually every country. This will have major health and economic consequences for generations to come.

Many countries are facing a double burden of malnutrition with undernutrition and overweight/obesity happening at the same time within their populations. This is posing major challenges to health systems and policy makers. 

Throughout life, poor nutrition increases susceptibility to disease and reduces our ability to recover from illness and respond to treatment. And as people live longer, maintaining good nutrition in later life is a challenge for health providers and individuals alike. In addition to health complications, malnutrition has lifelong ramifications because it affects our ability to learn and earn.

Despite its fundamental importance to health, there are concerns that nutrition research is not keeping up with these challenges. By bringing together leading experts from a range of areas with promising early career scientists, we tried to start a disruptive conversation on the future of nutrition science.

‘Transforming Nutrition Science for Better Health’ was held at Wellcome’s London office from 15-17 October 2018. It aimed to:

  • generate innovative research ideas with the potential to yield new health interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of children and adults
  • stimulate interdisciplinary exploration and foster collaborative approaches
  • inspire younger researchers to pursue careers in nutrition science
  • draw public attention to the importance of nutrition and how research improves health.

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