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Chicago universities are part of $170 million NIH Nutrition for Precision Health study

Goal is to create personalized diet plans for individuals based on their unique genetics, metabolism and other factors
Precision nutrition moves away from ‘one-size-fits-all’ diets.

Northwestern Medicine, the University of Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Illinois, Chicago and Rush University are part of a mega National Institutes of Health (NIH) $170 million program that is the first comprehensive study to investigate precision nutrition. The goal of “Nutrition for Precision Health,” powered by the All of Us Research Program (NPH), will be to develop algorithms to predict individual responses to food and dietary routines.

Northwestern and its partners will comprise the Illinois Precision Nutrition Research consortium, one of six centers around the country. Their grant will be $13,321,184 awarded over five years, pending availability of funds.

Precision nutrition, also known as personalized nutrition, will move away from ‘one-size-fits-all’ diet recommendations and create a customized diet plan for individuals based on individual differences, such as genetics and metabolism.  

“We will learn more precisely how to match dietary recommendations to the needs of an individual,” said Linda Van Horn, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the senior principal investigators. 

“At this level of precision regarding what was actually eaten, we can tell how that affects a person’s physiological and biological profile,” Van Horn said. “That way we can better identify an ideal versus detrimental eating pattern for an individual.” 

Some people may have a biological profile that suggests they will benefit from a diet including a greater percentage of calories from fatty acids versus others who appear to require a higher percentage of calories from plant-based protein. 

“The albatross around the neck of nutrition research has always been the absence of objective data,” Van Horn said. “We also rely on participants' willingness to confess ‘I had three chocolate chip cookies, not just one.’ Unfortunately, most people can barely remember what they had for breakfast by lunchtime. We’ve been handicapped by the absence of objective data.”

Van Horn said the study will finally allow researchers to align objective biomarkers with subjective diet assessment data. 

The Nutrition for Precision Health clinical studies are empowered by the All of Us Research Program already underway at Northwestern and led by principal investigator Dr. Philip Greenland, a cardiologist and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern. The nationwide program is recruiting one million or more people to create one of the largest health databases ever. Researchers from many medical perspectives can use these data to better understand disease.

In addition to Van Horn, All of Us is implemented locally by Joyce Ho, who is a multiple principal investigator with this newly funded Illinois Precision Nutrition Research consortium along with Marilyn Cornelis. 

The project will first recruit 2,000 individuals to participate in three different modules of nutrition research. The first module will ask individuals what they’ve eaten for two weeks, then attend a feeding challenge. They will eat a specific meal at a Northwestern clinic followed by extensive tests measuring blood pressure, heart rate, blood lipids, glucose and other biomarkers. This will be repeated three times with meals that vary in composition. 

Module two involves a feeding study where researchers send prepared meals to 400 participants’ homes for two weeks. They will return to the clinics and be retested. 

In module three, 200 people will be housed and fed carefully designed and uniformly measured diets under supervision and finally tested again while living on campus.

Research notes

The NIH grant supporting the research is UG1 HD107697-01. All of Us and Nutrition for Precision Health, powered by the All of Us Research Program are service marks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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