Imperial network gathers expertise to tackle global nutrition issues

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/HYWARDS
©iStock/HYWARDS
A new network of excellence has aims to become a beacon of nutrition research as it looks towards a renewed focus on balancing nutritional needs alongside food production in preserving population health.

The Nutrition and Food Network​, based at Imperial College in the UK, has been set up in response to the rise of obesity and diabetes, with a focus on what is eaten, pooling together the expertise of researchers from a number of faculties at the college.

“We are striving to improve health through intelligent, sustainable food and nutrition,”​ explained Professor Gary Frost​, chair in Nutrition and Dietetics at Imperial College.

“Many of the funders, such as the BBSRC, MRC, and Wellcome Trust, all have a focus on nutrition and there is a concern that the UK may be falling behind in the field, so having that shop window is really important.

“I hope that the network will stimulate new collaborations to answer some of the actual big problems.”

Whilst in the early stages of development, the network has a combined portfolio exceeding €22.6m (£20m), with the aim of expanding this to include interdisciplinary research and encouraging new teams to collaborate in tackling these challenges.

Indeed, one of the key objectives of the network seeks to build ties with industry and support the development of leaders in food and nutrition via recruitment and support of young lecturers and research studentships.

Young scientist development

“Young scientists and early career researchers are very important as they are the next wave, and to put them in an environment where they can think across boundaries is very important,” ​said Frost.

”To have a space where they can come together and think about how they might drive the field forward, will be absolutely fantastic and very innovative.”

Frost added that while Imperial was not known for nutrition, many groups based at the college had a research focus on nutrition that was world-renowned.

He referenced Dr Jeremy Nicholson's​ work with the microbiota, which had an overlap with nutrition, along with Elio Riboli's​ nutrition-focused research into cancer.

As well as research into non-communicable disease such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, the issue of under-nutrition and food shortages will also be on the network’s radar.

“We are tackling these issues by understanding novel approaches to food design and functionality as well as understanding how food interacts with metabolism,”​ Frost added.

“The understanding of food at a molecular level, as well as the underlying effect of food and nutrition on public health, is crucial to the design of food systems which can take advantage of key and emerging trends and respond to current challenges.“

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