Novel test could pave way for personalized nutrition in obese children

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

© image_jungle / Getty Images
© image_jungle / Getty Images

Related tags microbiome Obesity Probiotics Teenagers

A new study reports that obese children have lower quantities of certain Bifidobacterium species and essential branched-chain amino acids, opening the door for new opportunities in personalized nutrition interventions.

The research, published in the journal Microorganisms​, discusses the discovery of signature biomarkers for obesity and Type 1 diabetes (T1D) based on data from a novel test for profiling several Bifidobacterium species, combined with metabolomic analysis. 

It is the first of three study arms to be conducted as part of the EU-funded project Nutrishield, launched to explore the potential of personalized nutrition in young people using genetic and acquired factors, including the intestinal microbiome. 

"We found that B. longum ​subs. infantis​ and B. breve​ were higher in individuals with obesity, while B. bifidum​ and B. longum​ subs. longum were lower compared to healthy individuals," the researchers wrote.​ "In individuals with T1D, alterations were found at the metabolic level, with an overall increase in the level of the most measured metabolites."

The research team included scientists from the IRCCS San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italian probiotic manufacturer Probiotical Research, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Harokopio University in Athens, the Health Research Institute La Fe in Valencia, Swiss engineering firm Alpes Lasers and Swiss technology platform REM Analytics.

Paulo Refinetti, CEO at REM Analytics, which provided the assessment tool used in the study, said that the research aims to help make personalized diets a reality using a nutrition algorithm and encourages the next step in a collaboration with Probiotical to design new precision probiotic solutions.

“Simply giving dietary advice, whether personalized or not, doesn’t work that well, otherwise we wouldn't have obesity in teenagers to start with,” he said. “So the next natural step for us is really to try and capitalize on the relationship between obesity, the microbiome and probiotics, to try and use that as a boost to simple nutritional advice.”

Quantifying strains

Bifidobacterium is commonly used as a probiotic due to its anti-inflammatory effects and other beneficial properties, previously shown in overweight individuals​. 

Human-related bifidobacteria (HRB) are particularly important, as they are involved in the production of essential vitamins, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and other immune regulatory factors. They are able to metabolize human milk oligosaccharides​ (HMOs), helping the anatomical, physiological and immunological development in infancy.

Several of the researchers in this recent study previously developed a new quantitative test for profiling several HRBs, utilizing Advanced Testing for Genetic Composition (ATGC)​ by REM Analytics​, a platform that specializes in the development, sale and execution of microbiome tests. 

As part of this platform, REM Analytics developed the BifidoZoom assay to profile the Bifidobacterium​ species in stool samples for quantitatively profiling mixed genetic populations, even those that are taxonomically close. 

This technology, along with metabolic profiling and diet evaluation, was used in the Nutrishield project to understand the relationship between HRB abundance, metabolite release, diet and obesity/T1D, with the end goal of developing personalized nutrition strategies for managing these conditions in children.

Markers for obesity 

The study recruited 98 male and female children between the ages of 7 and 17 (40 healthy controls, 40 with T1D and 18 with obesity) at the Pediatric Department of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy. 

Stool and urine samples were collected, and the researchers conducted sociodemographic, psychological, lifestyle and dietary assessments at the time of enrollment. Microcapillary electrophoresis was used for the detailed profiling of Bifidobacterium​ species and subspecies focusing on cohorts with obesity and T1D. 

Findings showed that individuals with obesity showed a decrease in certain beneficial Bifidobacterium species in comparison to healthy individuals. These bacteria have been linked to improved gut health, metabolic processes and weight management​.

Additionally, the obese children exhibited lower levels of essential branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) isoleucine and valine, which play vital roles in energy metabolism and muscle protein synthesis​. These amino acids have been found to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut​, and their deficiency has been linked to obesity-related metabolic disorders​. 

“Supplementation with Bifidobacterium longum subs. longum ​and bifidum​, coupled with isoleucine and valine, could provide a targeted approach to mitigate the onset of obesity,” the researchers concluded. “Such interventions could harness the synergistic effects of these components to restore gut microbiome balance, enhance metabolic functions and promote healthy weight management.”

Refinetti noted that there are still questions unanswered as no microbiome biomarkers were found for T1D.

“We are going to try and focus on what we can do in the short term, which is to help children with obesity,” he said.

Journal: Microorganisms​ 
doi: 10.3390/microorganisms12050931
“Innovative Biomarkers for Obesity and Type 1 Diabetes Based on Bifidobacterium​ and Metabolomic Profiling.”
Authors: Nobili, A. Et al.

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