The three-year project is being funded by a grant from the Dutch government’s Food and Nutrition Delta program, and will also include data-analytical input from the Netherlands Metabolomics Centre.
Unilever and TNO say that research into the links between food and health has become a priority in modern society, where current lifestyles and diet are contributing to increasing cases of obesity, stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The groups will focus on examining the benefits of food components via nutrigenomics. This is the study of how nutrients and genes interact and how genetic variations can cause people to respond differently to food nutrients.
Dr Hen Hendriks, senior scientist as TNO said that this approach could also help substantiate health claims.
“We’d like to use new nutrigenomics technology to see if we can have more integrated data that can help us substantiate a claim,” he told NutraIngredients.com.
The groups will focus on three areas of nutrigenomics: proteomics, which looks at proteins; metabolomics, which looks at metabolites; and transcriptomics, which looks at MRNA, or gene expression.
Gut bacteria and inflammation
Two key areas of focus will be gut bacteria and inflammatory tone.
“Emerging scientific evidence suggests that gut bacteria, interacting with diets, play an important role in this process. However, the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown and complex, hence the need for new research,” say Unilever and TNO.
The research will also look into the body’s inflammatory tone to find out how diet can improve homeostatic control, or the body’s balance.
Another key approach in the research project is ‘challenge testing’, explained Dr Hendriks.
“We’ll induce inflammatory responses and see the recovery from these as an indicator for resilience, which could show ways you can counter an attack,” he said.
“Unilever has high expectations from this collaboration which addresses a very important global health issue,” said John Casey VP Bioscience, Nutrition and Health.
Rob Hamer, VP Discover Vlaardingen added that the collaboration “fits perfectly in Unilever’s strategy to work with leading external partners to speed up our innovations”.
The groups hope that the research collaboration will help develop new meals and diet plans that could help improve consumer health.