The newest co-editor-in-chief of BMC’s Genes & nutrition, Ahmed El-Sohemy is a Full Professor and Associate Chair at the University of Toronto. Professor El-Sohemy will speak at the Personalized Nutrition Innovation Summit June 28-29, and in this new Q&A, Professor El-Sohemy will speak about the summit, his company Nutrigenomix and the magazine.
Can you give us a brief overview of Nutrigenomix and the heart of your work today?
Nutrigenomix is a biotechnology company dedicated to providing healthcare professionals and their customers with comprehensive genome information for personalized nutrition, with the ultimate goal of improving health and performance through precise nutritional recommendations. I started the company a decade ago as a start-up from the University of Toronto, but we now have our own offices in 4 countries and offer testing to over 10,000 healthcare professionals in 40 countries. We use evidence-based actionable genetic markers to help individuals maximize their genetic potential and overall health through personalized nutrition. Our panels for health, exercise, fertility and plants consist of 70 genetic markers with actionable information for weight management, nutritional recommendations, heart health, food intolerances, eating habits and physical activity, as well as additional genetic insights for health and wellness with an emphasis on areas like inflammation and antioxidant capacity, sleep and alcohol sensitivity. The research we are doing at the University of Toronto aims to find out how certain genetic variants alter our response to different nutrients and bioactive foods in relation to different outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, premenstrual symptoms, athletic performance, and infertility .
How has personalized nutrition changed in recent years?
I think the science of personalized nutrition has advanced tremendously in recent years, which has led the industry to move from niche offerings to more accessible products and services. We are now seeing various foods and supplements that can be personalized based on tastes and preferences, as well as health attributes such as nutritional status, gut microbiome, and DNA test results. It remains a bit of a “wild west” with claims that tend to exaggerate the science, but consumers and healthcare professionals are becoming more cautious and researching the science behind some of these products and services. Overall, I think we are seeing a trend towards more products and services developed on the basis of solid scientific evidence, which is vital for this area to thrive.
The future of DNA-based personalized nutrition is bright, and new insights from the increasing flow of scientific knowledge enable companies to develop more precise and comprehensive recommendations.
What do you think it will be like in five years?
We have been focused on advancing the DNA-based personalized nutrition space as it is the most developed branch of personalized nutrition in my opinion. Although there is an increasing trend to incorporate various “omics” technologies, I believe it is important to distinguish between research-based basic nutritional research and practical or applied research. Many of the studies that use epigenetic approaches, for example, are unsuitable for clinical applications. We know this because epigenetic changes are tissue specific and it is not practical or desirable to have a tissue biopsy to provide personalized recommendations. Still, I think it makes sense to use non-invasive biomarkers to track progress and monitor changes in health or performance status once a person begins following their personalized dietary recommendations. The future of DNA-based personalized nutrition is bright, and new insights from the increasing flow of scientific knowledge enable companies to develop more precise and comprehensive recommendations. Eventually, bridging existing technologies like wearable devices and cell phones with personalized nutritional innovations will allow healthcare providers and consumers alike to measure referral compliance and effectiveness in real time, and potentially connect to devices that deliver personalized products like energy bars and beverages.
Can you give us a taste of what you will be discussing in your presentation at the Personalized Nutrition Innovation Summit in June?
I will be with Dr. Sharon Donovan present. We will each give a short presentation of 5-7 minutes in which we will show the benefits, limits and possibilities in the field of personalized nutrition that we believe are possible. In my talk, I will focus on DNA-based approaches to personalized nutrition and the role genetics play in the broader field of precision nutrition.
What do you think are some of the biggest developments that emerged from these meetings?
I am amazed to see the growing number of start-ups developing exciting new products and services. Many of these seem to be driven by creative young minds who bring ideas from diverse fields such as food science, robotics, AI and data science, clinical chemistry and psychology. What I’ve enjoyed most at these meetings in the past is the opportunity to network not only with scientists from different disciplines, but also with other companies, large and small, who are coming to this conference because they recognize that personalized nutrition is not a Passing by is fashion. The genie is out of the bottle. There is no way that we will return to consistent nutritional advice. The challenge is to determine how personalized nutrition can be most effectively delivered and how different stakeholders can work together to make it work efficiently and for the benefit of consumers and health systems.
How can a meeting of CEOs, start-up founders and investors help drive the industry forward?
The meeting can help attendees identify common challenges and opportunities and create a roadmap that can facilitate the development of the industry. It is also important that stakeholders consider how information will be communicated to the end user, how it will be stored and protected, and whether an industry-wide regulatory framework needs to be developed.
Are there any speakers that you are particularly looking forward to?
Most of all, I’m looking forward to the opening session with Mariette Abrahams, Nard Clabbers and Tom Aarts. I think they are all bright visionaries in this field and I look forward to their current perspectives. I’m also excited to listen to the NutrInnovate session and see what the latest startups have come up with.
What areas will be discussed at the summit that you think will be of most interest to readers? Genes and nutrition?
When I look at the program, I can honestly say that every session would be of great interest to the readers Genes and nutrition. As one of the magazine’s co-editors-in-chief, I am aware of the wide variety of research we are receiving and considering for publication, and for the most part, these research articles not only add to our basic understanding of the role of nutrition and genetics in relation to it on health and performance, but many also have the potential to be translated into a product or service. Therefore, readers who primarily focus on their scientific research can benefit from any sessions highlighting advances in commercialization. I think it will encourage more basic researchers to see the potential applications of their own work.
Dr. Ahmed El-Sohemy is Full Professor and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto and has held a Canadian Research Chair in Nutrigenomics. He is also the founder of Nutrigenomix Inc. and serves as the company’s chief science officer. Dr. El-Sohemy has published over 180 peer-reviewed articles, delivered over 200 invited lectures around the world, and received multiple awards for excellence in research from the Canadian Nutrition Society and the American College of Nutrition.