Trends in tech: Vitafoods 2024

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

© Drazen_ / Getty Images
© Drazen_ / Getty Images

Related tags Technology AI Machine learning app

Tech was a hit topic at the Vitafoods tradeshow in Geneva last month, with home testing, tracking and apps soaring in consumer popularity as people seek to reduce epigenetic age.

While technological advances, including the use of AI, hold much promise, the industry is still in the early stages of understanding its capabilities, Sabina Bruehlmann, CEO at Nimble Science, said during a panel on how tech driven diagnostics are fueling the future of health innovation.

Nimble Science​, the small-intestine sampling technology company, specializes in kits that collect an intestinal biopsy through the ingestion of an electronic ‘pill’.

The company’s success, Bruehlmann explained, can in part be attributed to consumer interest in tech evolution but that it is important to involve consumers so they feel comfortable with technological advancements. 

“Consumers are increasingly interested in being informed about products, feeling empowered and curious about their choices,” she said. “Meanwhile, companies face pressure to provide higher levels of evidence for their products, and the challenge now is to align scientifically validated products with the evidence consumers seek, presenting both a problem and an opportunity for the future.”

For Bruehlmann, more collaboration is needed between industry, healthcare professionals and regulators to ensure that products meet clinical standards and effectively contribute to the ‘lifestyle as medicine’ movement. 

“The science still has a long way to go until we understand what diagnostic tools for the consumer are going to be necessary,” she added. 

Opportunity for improvement

Tech advancement has emphasized the shift from subjective evaluation to quantifiable measures, which comes with its own challenges, Varun Dwaraka, head of bioinformatics at epigenetic company TruDiagnostic, noted during the panel discussion. 

“This transition reminds me of the saying ‘curiosity killed the cat’ because as we quantify health, we uncover discrepancies between subjective feelings and objective data,” he said.

However, he noted that this disconnect could be seen as an opportunity for improvement.

His technology company uses DNA methylation as a biomarker for determining biological age and has now developed consumer products aimed at both consumers and physicians. 

For TruDiagnostic, the tech evolution is gaining fast momentum as the company has now expanded its approach to not only assess biological age but also to evaluate other aspects of health such as metabolites, proteins and clinical values, and linking them to disease risk. 

“This broadens our scope under the umbrella of DNA methylation and epigenetics, ultimately aiming to enhance our understanding of health and disease,” Dwaraka noted. 

He added that a holistic approach to nutrition will be the key to improved health, and considering multiple markers will facilitate that.  

“We need to look beyond just physical outcomes and consider molecular drivers such as omics—genomics, metabolomics and epigenomics,” he said. “By understanding the molecular underpinnings, it becomes possible to establish connections between scientific research and clinical outcomes, ultimately translating findings into practical health strategies.”

Consumer solutions

Evolving knowledge alongside technology is crucial when it comes to remaining relevant to consumers, Abbie Cawood, head of science at Holland & Barrett International explained, in a separate presentation on the importance of being ‘science-led’.

The Europe-wide retailer recently launched its new app H&B&Me designed to 'add quality years to life' by evaluating biological age using a questionnaire to assess health habits and offering solutions for improvement to consumers.

The app aims to facilitate an improved consumer awareness of overall health with personalized goal-setting and tracking tools targeting four key areas: sleep quality, nutritional intake, physical activity and emotional well-being.

An AI ‘coach’ will then offer personalized nudges and expert advice, fed by doctors, nutritionists, exercise physiologists and sleep specialists.

Using AI

AI will continue to drive the future of research and development (R&D), according to Nora Khaldi, CEO of Nuritas​. 

“AI has the power to allow scientists to discover genuinely transformative ingredients that would take millions of years to develop with traditional methods,” she explained during a presentation. “Without AI, it would have taken 30 million years to discover what we have. There is no alternative but to keep going.”

For Khaldi, the future of R&D lies in AI, despite the initial high costs involved. 

“Yes, it's expensive, but we’re talking about paying once, and then we have the structure in place,” she said. “Once it is developed, it's no longer expensive.”

The obstacle continues to be that research results are not written for AI, she explained, and machine learning only works if the machine can understand the data. 

“Companies must be prepared to invest the time and resources required to collect and develop robust data,” Khaldi noted. “Once we’ve learned how to do that, the possibilities are endless.”

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