Multi-disciplined science approach improves diet and health

The cutting edge study of epigenetics to unravel how nutrition can regulate the genome and impact on health and wellbeing throughout life; the important insights from epidemiological research about diet-disease relationships; the discovery of new food components such as phytochemicals and their potential role in disease prevention, are just a few of the areas discussed in the Special Issue. It charts progress in knowledge about diet and health, through the work of eminent experts, and the role of BNF over the last 50 years in helping to disseminate evidenced based findings and making nutrition science accessible to all.

Paul Finglas, Mark Roe and Hannah Pinchen from Food Databanks, along with Siân Astley from EuroFIR AISBL authored a review, titled ‘The contribution of food composition resources to nutrition science methodology.’ It describes how, over the last century, the development of tools and methods for studying the nutrient and energy composition of foods has underpinned many advances in our understanding of links between diet and health.

The twelve articles published in the Special Issue, highlighting work in the areas of epidemiology, biochemistry, behavioural science, food science and technology, biomedical science, and epigenetics, show that nutrition is “one of the most exciting areas of science with so much potential for positive impact on human health”, according to Professor Christine Williams, Professor of Human Nutrition at University of Reading, Chair of the Board of Trustees at BNF, and author of the Special Issue’s Editorial. Professor Williams is also a member of the Quadram Institute Bioscience Board of Trustees.

The Special Issue illustrates how a multi-disciplined scientific approach, and collaboration between the scientific community and industry, can have a positive impact on health outcomes, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Professor Williams believes that reformulation of foods through processing and innovations in agriculture have played an important role in reducing potentially harmful and enhancing potentially beneficial dietary components in people’s diets. She says: “We need a clear code of practice for research collaborations between academia and industry, both to protect the independence of the researcher and to ensure the role which industry could play in improving the diets of populations is optimised.”

Professor Williams’ comments echo the findings of a recent report by the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research on the state of nutrition and health research, which highlight that funders and researchers need to work with all stakeholders, including those across all sectors of the food industry, as well as emphasising the global nature of the challenges in tackling nutritional health. In order to ensure that the track record of successes described in this Special Issue over the past 50 years can continue in the decades to come, it’s vital that funding across the scientific disciplines is maintained and multidisciplinary work continues to be centre stage.

‘Nutrition science past and future: Celebrating a multi-disciplined approach’ is available to download from

Reference: Finglas, P., Roe, M., Pinchen, H. and Astley, S. (2017), The contribution of food composition resources to nutrition science methodology. Nutrition Bulletin, 42: 198–206. doi:10.1111/nbu.12274

Press release from Quadram Institute website.

New study highlights how processing affects fat absorption from plant-based foods

Preserving the natural structure of plant-based food during processing can limit the amount of fat and energy absorbed by the body, a new study in the Journal of Functional Foods reports. During this innovative multi-centred study researchers from the Quadram Institute, King’s College London, the University of Surrey and the University of Messina showed that preserving the natural structure of plant based foods can limit how quickly fats are exposed to digestive enzymes in the stomach helping to regulate the amount of fat absorbed by the body.

Focusing on almonds, which contain 50 per cent fat, researchers investigated the effects different processing methods had on how almonds are ingested by the body. Despite being a high fat food, it has been shown previously that eating whole almonds doesn’t result in weight gain. Investigating why this might be, the researchers provided a study participant with two almond muffins, one made with almond chunks (2 mm) and one made with almond flour, which has much smaller particles (at less than half a millimetre).

The muffins were chewed as normal but instead of swallowing were put into an instrument known as the Dynamic Gastric Model, which accurately mimics the physical and chemical conditions of the human stomach and small bowel, enabling the researchers to calculate how much fat had been released.  After 60 minutes in the model stomach, which is the time calculated for this meal to pass through in humans, over 40 per cent of the total fat content had been released from the muffins made with almond flour, but just under 6 per cent had been released from the muffins made with larger almond chunks. Samples taken from the simulated small bowel showed that after 9 hours of digestion, almost all (97 per cent) of the fat from the muffin made with flour was released, and only 60 per cent of fat in the muffin made with almond chunks was released.

These findings were supported by results from a human study with a volunteer who had an ileostomy operation, allowing a direct comparison with the model. The researchers concluded that maintaining the structural integrity of the tough cell walls, which form dietary fibre, surrounding the fat-rich cells in almonds was the main factor in determining the digestibility of fats.

Dr Cathrina Edwards from the Quadram Institute said: “What we have found is that if the natural plant structure is maintained the level of fat the body absorbs is greatly reduced, helping in weight management and potentially helping to reduce incidences of cardiovascular disease”.

The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the University of Messina. The Almond Board of California supplied the almonds.

Reference: In vitro and in vivo modeling of lipid bioaccessibility and digestion from almond muffins: The importance of the cell-wall barrier mechanism Terri Grassby, Giuseppina Mandalari, Myriam M.-L. Grundy, Cathrina H. Edwards, Carlo Bisignano, Domenico Trombetta, Antonella Smeriglio, Simona Chessa, Shuvra Ray, Jeremy Sanderson, Sarah E. Berry, Peter R. Ellis, Keith W. Waldron Journal of Functional Foods Volume 37, October 2017, Pages 263–271 doi: 10.1016/j.jff.2017.07.046

Press release from Quadram Institute news pages.

IFR and NNUH help to combat serious gut infections with FMT

A collaboration between the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and Institute of Food Research (IFR) has been crucial to the success of the Faecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT) to combat Clostridium difficile infection, but this also extends beyond, as they are interested in learning more about exactly what makes this treatment so effective, and finding ways of improving it further.

The IFR researchers, led by Professor Arjan Narbad, are monitoring the changes in the patients’ microbiomes, comparing them before and after treatment, working with Dr Ngozi Elumogo, Director of Infection Prevention and Control at NNUH and consultant gastroenterologist Dr Ian Beales

“This is allowing us to get a picture of how similar the patient’s microbiome is to the donor’s, and see how long these changes persist, over a period of months,” said Prof. Narbad. “We’re also able to compare the efficacy of the different ways of delivering the FMT, to find ways of improving the process.”

One way of improving the process could be to deliver to the stomach rather than further down to where they need to be in the colon, which makes it easier to administer. But in that case, the bacteria then need to survive transit to the colon.

“We’re also looking at using concentrated preparations which have a smaller volume, to speed up the process and make it less invasive” said Prof. Narbad. “There’s also the possibility of using frozen, rather than freshly prepared samples. It would be much easier to use ‘off the shelf’ preparations than to obtain fresh samples from a donor each time. And looking beyond that, we want to explore preparing freeze-dried capsules that patients can take themselves, like a tablet.”

The collaboration between the clinicians at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the microbiologists and gut microbiome experts at IFR is driving forward the development of the technique, but it relies on the knowledge gained from following the patients who consent to aiding the research.


Prof. Arjan Narbad, Dr Dr Ngozi Elumogo (NNUH) and Dr Lee Kellingray (IFR)

“What we ultimately want to be able to do is use the information from following patients for months after their FMT treatment to show which bacterial species are the best colonisers, and which might just be described as ‘temporary guests. We may then be able to use a defined mix of fully characterised bacteria that are as effective as using the entire donor material.”

The idea of creating a defined mix of bacteria to treat diseases isn’t new. It’s something that was pioneered at the Institute of Food Research in the early 1980s, but in poultry. Dr Ella Barnes OBE and Dr Geoff Mead developed a method, known as defined competitive exclusion product, that encouraged a healthy microbiome in chicks that inhibited the growth of Salmonella, helping make poultry products safer.

“Thirty years later, we are essentially using the same approach, but in humans.”

So far, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has only approved the use of FMT for treating recurrent C. difficile but there is interest here and in other groups around the world in the potential of microbiome therapies for other conditions. But more needs to be known about these conditions, and their links to the gut and the microbiome, which will rely on generating new knowledge and getting evidence that these therapies work.

The Norwich Research Park is well placed to be at the forefront of this emerging area of research, through its concentrated expertise in gut microbiology, physiology and in clinical research, enabling both the fundamental science and its translation into new therapies. At IFR, much of this has been driven by a strategic programme of research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) into gut health and food safety, which has led to closer ties with the neighbouring Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

These ties will become even stronger with the development of the Quadram Institute, which will integrate IFR research teams into the same building as the NNUH’s new regional gastrointestinal endoscopy facility. It will make collaborations between clinicians and researchers more common, and help take fundamental science from the lab bench to really make a difference to the lives of people suffering from conditions, such as C. difficile infection.

Arjan Narbad confessed to being a little reticent about being involved in this project, until he was able to convince himself that the protocols they were developing would be safe and effective. But he’s glad he did.

‘In over 25 years of being at IFR, this has been the one of most rewarding pieces of work, where you can actually see the benefit to patients immediately’ Professor Arjan Narbad

Link to IFR News item

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