As Jim Kaput, PhD, of University of California, Davis, Ordovas, and their many colleagues write in the British Journal of Nutrition, their goal is to create an international consortium with which to harness the power and expertise of a large collaborative network of nutritional genomics researchers dedicated to investigating how genetics and nutrition can promote health or prevent disease.
"Advancing our knowledge of diet-gene interactions is critical," says Ordovas, who is also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, "but knowledge alone is not sufficient for us to effectively address health disparities and combat chronic disease throughout the world." He emphasizes that scientists must collaborate with scholars and policy makers, as well.
"In the spirit of creating a truly integrated research initiative in nutrigenomics," write the authors, "the interaction of partners from agriculture, food processing, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical industries with academic centers would accelerate technology development and dissemination of nutrigenomic information to the public."
Ordovas and his collaborators believe that this comprehensive approach will benefit human health both in the short and long term. Potential benefits include developing new diagnostic tests for adverse responses to food, identifying specific populations of people who have special nutrient needs, revealing previously undiscovered nutrient-gene interactions, improving current methods for dietary assessment, and assisting in creating more nutritious foods and formulations.
One of the first goals of the consortium is to promote ethical and culturally sensitive recruitment of study participants from diverse cultures. "To our knowledge," state the authors, "there are no precedents that allow for data sharing across national borders yet protect individuals' biological information." Since some racial and ethnic populations suffer disproportionately from specific chronic diseases, it is important that they are included as participants in nutrigenomic research studies. The consortium proposes the development of protocols to address the ethical, social and legal issues of study sponsorship and benefit sharing, public engagement, consent, and data protection.
Continuing to look toward the future of genomics, Ordovas will be participating in an Institute of Medicine workshop in Washington, DC, this June. The workshop will focus on how genetic/genomic research can be integrated into nutrition research.
Kaput J, Ordovas JM, Ferguson L, et al. British Journal of Nutrition. 2005; 94: 623-632. "The case for strategic international alliances to harness nutritional genomics for public and personal health."
If you are interested in learning more about these topics, or speaking with a faculty member at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, or another Tufts health sciences researcher, please contact Siobhan Gallagher at 617-636-6586, or Peggy Hayes at 617-636-3707.
The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight centers, which focus on questions relating to famine, hunger, poverty, and communications, are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy. For two decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies.