By Scott LaFee
The National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s All of Us Research Program is a national effort to build a large, diverse database of 1 million or more people whom researchers can use to study health and disease.
The NIH is now awarding $170 million in grant funding to centers across the country to create a new consortium known as Nutrition for Precision Health, powered by the All of Us Research Program®. The consortium will recruit a diverse pool of 10,000 All of Us Research Program participants to develop algorithms to predict individual responses to food and inform more personalized nutrition recommendations.
The Nutrition for Precision Health consortium includes $14.55 million to launch a new Microbiome and Metagenomics Center at UC San Diego. The center will analyze the microbiomes — communities of microbes and their genetic material — found in the stool samples of nutrition study participants.
Two UC San Diego scientists affiliated with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering will be part of this effort.
A current challenge in precision nutrition is the inability to combine the many factors that affect how individuals respond to diet into a personalized nutrition regimen. These potential factors include the microbiome, metabolism, nutritional status, genetics and the environment. The way these factors interact to affect health is still poorly understood.
The Microbiome and Metagenomics Center at UC San Diego will help address some of these gaps.
“Our new center will deploy more than a decade of research and development for the NIH’s most exciting exploration yet, combining our understanding of the microbiome and human genetics with our groundbreaking technical and informatics advances to rapidly explore next-generation disease treatments based on precision nutrition,” said Microbiome and Metagenomics Center co-leader Jack Gilbert, professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The Microbiome and Metagenomics Center will be led by Gilbert and Rob Knight, who holds appointments in the UC San Diego Department of Computer Science and Engineering and School of Medicine, along with co-investigators Andrew Bartko; Rebecca Fielding-Miller; Kathleen Fisch; Maryam Gholami David Gonzalez Kristen Jepsen; Daniel McDonald; Camille Nebeker; Pavel Pevzner, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; and Karsten Zengler all at UC San Diego. The team will also collaborate closely with researchers at Duke University.
“The center will build on what we have learned in other large-scale activities, including the Human Microbiome Project, the Earth Microbiome Project and the American Gut Project. It leverages many of the faculty and strengths brought together in the Center for Microbiome Innovation, as well as the cross-disciplinary microbiome community we have built here at UC San Diego,” said Knight, professor and director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Jacobs School of Engineering.
“Bringing this expertise and technology to bear on the incredibly challenging problem of nutrition and health will enable a whole new level of precision in answering the age-old question of ‘what should I eat today’?’ We are just starting to understand how the microbiome can answer this with a surprising level of individual detail, not just broad-strokes generalizations for the whole population.”
Nutrition for Precision Health will collect new microbiome and metagenomics data, along with other potentially predictive factors, and combine it with existing data in the All of Us database to develop a more complete picture of how individuals respond to different foods or dietary routines. The data will be integrated into the All of Us Researcher Workbench and made widely available, providing greater opportunities for researchers to make discoveries that could improve health and prevent or treat diseases and conditions affected by nutrition.
“We know that nutrition, just like medicine, isn’t one-size-fits-all,” said Holly Nicastro, PhD, MPH, a coordinator of Nutrition for Precision Health at NIH. “Nutrition for Precision Health will take into account an individual’s genetics, gut microbes and other lifestyle, biological, environmental or social factors to help each individual develop eating recommendations that improve overall health.”
All of Us opened for enrollment in 2018 and UC San Diego Health co-leads the program’s implementation in California, where more than 37,000 people have already signed up to participate. To learn more about the All of Us Research Program and how to join, please visit JoinAllofUs.org.
The Microbiome and Metagenomics Center at UC San Diego is supported by the NIH Common Fund’s Nutrition for Precision Health, powered by the All of Us Research Program grant 1 U24 DK131617-01. Nutrition for Precision Health, powered by All of Us Research Program, and All of Us are service marks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).