The project centres on a UMCG cohort study for which the blood and urine samples and health history of the 1,600 Dutch participants aged 60-75 years have already been collected. The LifeLines cohort will have an overall sample size of over 165,000 individuals, which will be followed for a period of 30 years.
Professor Manfred Eggersdorfer, senior vice president of nutrition science and advocacy at DSM and professor of healthy ageing at UMCG, told us there was currently nothing like this kind of data available. The nutrient statuses will be analysed alongside phenotypes - the visible or measurable expression of a genotype - like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), obesity and risk factors like exposure to air pollution. “We’re connecting all the different dots now,” he said.
He said this would go beyond the traditional assessment method of food questionnaires, which could be unreliably reported and ultimately only focused on intakes not uptakes and bioavailability of different nutrients.
Professor Eggersdorfer said they hoped the data from this would be available at the end of the year after which they would be looking to publish the results in a journal.
He refrained from stating how much financial support DSM was contributing to the project, but said it was a “heavy commitment”.
Spotting the differences
The project looks to answer the question: Why do some people develop chronic illnesses early in life, while others remain healthy into old age?
Eggersdorfer said DSM and the researchers had been prompted by the World Health Organisation’s assertion that 60-70% of deaths are due to non-communicable diseases, which could be down to lifestyle factors of which nutrition plays a key role. According to WHO, the four main types of non-communicable diseases are cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma and diabetes.
“Our analysis has the potential to lead to faster identification of diseases and will complement further research into preventing chronic disorders in low and high socio-economic groups. This would have a significant impact on public health globally.”
The cohort study had already been in development for a few years, but it was DSM’s suggestion to add in the phenotyping element. He said past research projects DSM had collaborated on had revealed suboptimal intakes for many nutrients like vitamin E and C in developed countries, where generally food was plentiful, like France and the UK. He said it was important to consider why this might be, whether this meant recommendations were wrong and what the long-term health implications were.
If differences were spotted between different types of people, health authorities would have to engage and this could potentially have an impact on national nutrition recommendations, Eggersdorfer said.
The cohort was based on a population from Northern Netherlands, but ultimately the researchers and DSM would be looking at different populations most likely starting with the US then moving onto Asian for contrast.
This older population had been targeted in order to try to establish long term health implications.