Wim Saris: Global health needs global collaboration

Published: 14-07-2014

The emergence of advanced technologies in genomics, IT and neuroimaging has opened up a whole new world in nutritional sciences. Within the next ten years we will be able to effectively demonstrate how nutrition affects inflammation and metabolic processes in the body. This will enable food manufacturers to substantiate health claims; for instance for probiotics and prebiotics but also for polyphenols and other bioactive compounds.

Personalized nutrition
A wide range of reliable (do-it-yourself) assessment methods are becoming available, for example to measure blood glucose. Smartphone apps, combining food intake data with collection with photo recording, are facilitating and accelerating epidemiological research, providing data that are more reliable and accurate than that gathered via questionnaires. Such new assessment methods will make it possible to offer personalized nutrition programs, giving consumers targeted individual nutritional advice instead of general healthy-eating recommendations.

I firmly believe the Netherlands can and must be a leader in further developing these approaches, to address the growing incidence of nutrition-related diseases. Our research is internationally acknowledged and respected and our scientists are ranked in the world’s top five world for most-cited publications in high-impact, peer-reviewed journals. In the areas of clinical nutrition, microbiota and intestinal health and food technology, the Netherlands is in the top three countries in the world.

Several recent, impressive, scientific insights have resulted from research conducted in the Netherlands. In 2009, scientists from TI Food and Nutrition, Wageningen University and Maastricht University were the first to demonstrate that probiotic bacteria can directly affect immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract (1). Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have achieved spectacular results by transplanting feces from healthy individuals into the intestines of patients (2). This treatment not only appears to reduce persistent intestinal inflammation – a common phenomenon in Crohn’s Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – but also the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Another highlight includes research, conducted by Wageningen University and Maastricht University within the TI Food and Nutrition public-private partnership, on maintaining muscle mass in the elderly. This work has shown that nutrition – especially changes in protein and amino-acid intake – can extend an active and healthy lifestyle in the elderly (3).

Systems biology approach
With the emergence of an advanced systems biology approach, using very large linked datasets, I expect more groundbreaking insights will follow; not only in the fields of intestinal health, protein and muscle health, but also in the relatively-unexplored field of nutrition and cognition. Combining large datasets, for example on genetic variation and metabolic parameters, will enable scientists to better understand physical processes and mechanisms and predict the effects of nutrition on health.

“Public-private partnerships have proven to be excellent structures for establishing and coordinating the programs needed for precompetitive, multidisciplinary research”

In order to succeed here, however, much closer collaboration between research groups is needed in data collection, processing and analysis; nutritionists, systems biologists and IT specialists from all over the world should combine strengths. Public-private partnerships, such as TI Food and Nutrition, have proven to be excellent structures for establishing and coordinating the programs needed for precompetitive, multidisciplinary research. The more of these consortia there are, the more likely it is that we will see breakthrough research in areas such as obesity – a significant modern health problem with high financial and human costs; we know there is a major hereditary component in obesity, but we have yet to identify enough of the genes responsible.

To the food industry and academia I say this: you must ensure that you are aware of the latest developments in food and nutrition research. Keeping abreast of the latest technologies and discoveries will enable you to act decisively in bringing new products to the market and improving the health of our population.”

Prof. Wim Saris: Theme Director Nutrition and Health at TI Food and Nutrition, Professor of Human Nutrition at Maastricht University and Corporate Scientist Human Nutrition at DSM Food Specialties

1. Van Baarlen P, Troost, FJ, Van Hemert S, Van der Meer C, De Vos, WM, De Groot PhJ, Hooiveld G, Brummer R.-J, Kleerebezem M (2009) Differential NF-kB pathways induction by Lactobacillus plantarum in the duodenum of healthy humans correlating with immune tolerance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2009;106:2371–2376.

2. Van Nood E, Vrieze A, Nieuwdorp M, Fuentes S, Zoetendal EG, De Vos WM, Visser CE, Kuijper EJ, Bartelsman WFJM, Tijssen JGP, Speelman P, Dijkgraaf MGW, Keller JJ (2013) Duodenal Infusion of Donor Feces for Recurrent Clostridium difficile. N Engl J Med 2013; 368: 407-415

3. Cermak NM, Res PT, De Groot LCPGM, Saris WHM, Van Loon LJC (2012) Protein supplementation augments the adaptive response of skeletal muscle to resistance-type exercise training: a meta-analysis.AJCN 2012: 96 1454-64