July 25, 2024
Rick Woychik, Ph.D., NIEHS Director's Corner
Rick Woychik, Ph.D., directs NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program. (Image courtesy of NIEHS)

Past thirty day period, I frequented the College of North Carolina Diet Study Institute (NRI) and discovered how researchers there are using cutting-edge procedures to advance precision nourishment. That analysis location, which falls less than the umbrella of precision medicine, is about shedding gentle on what results in dissimilarities in metabolism and nutritional needs among men and women. The final aim is to develop focused nutritional interventions that boost well being on a customized level.

Precision diet exploration is sophisticated simply because it need to account for many things that can affect our response to eating plan, these as genetics, epigenetics, metabolic processes, and environmental exposures. Susan Sumner, Ph.D., a professor of diet at NRI, will work to untangle that complexity. She is an professional in metabolomics, which is the substantial-scale research of all metabolites in a organic specimen. Such evaluation is a crucial aspect of the precision diet toolbox.

Knowledge how exposures disrupt metabolic process and trigger probably harmful organic changes can increase understanding of what foods may well assistance to decrease such effects. Metabolomics is an essential framework for understanding what an individual’s nutritional desires may well be in the context of various environmental influences ranging from way of living factors these kinds of as alcohol and tobacco use to the microbiome and air air pollution.

Sumner hosted my check out to NRI, which is found in Kannapolis, North Carolina. I was joined by my colleague Geoffrey Ginsburg, M.D., Ph.D., who is the main healthcare and scientific officer for the Countrywide Institutes of Health and fitness All of Us Investigation Application. That is a key study work aimed at advancing precision drugs, which refers to individualized analysis, avoidance, and treatment method of ailment. We acquired how Sumner and her colleagues are supporting to make the assure of precision medicine a fact through their analysis on nourishment and metabolic process.

Afterward, I caught up with Sumner to understand a lot more about her attempts at NRI, the importance of learning metabolic process, how food plan alone is a crucial environmental exposure, how qualified dietary interventions may well assist to decrease possible hurt from exposures, and more. I also questioned about what influenced her to go after a biomedical job (see sidebar).

Being familiar with metabolism

Rick Woychik: Can you describe the work that you do at NRI?

Susan Sumner, Ph.D.
Sumner’s scientific passions include things like precision medicine, precision diet, nutrient cocktails, metabolomics, and exposomics. (Image courtesy of Susan Sumner)

Susan Sumner: NRI is positioned on the North Carolina Analysis Campus in Kannapolis, which was established about 12 a long time ago as a community-private partnership and involves eight North Carolina universities. Experts here perform scientific tests on several elements of diet, and our institute focuses on precision nutrition.

In my lab, I research metabolites, which are little molecules in our bodies that consequence from standard metabolic procedures or environmental exposures including nutritional consumption, nutritional supplements, prescription drugs, and so forth. These collective exposures can disrupt rate of metabolism in unique techniques among the distinctive people, which is one thing I contact metabolic individuality. That can direct to key variances in how a given person could respond to nutrition.

At NRI, we want to understand the optimum stage of vitamins and minerals an personal demands, and that may perhaps depend on the person’s genetics, fat burning capacity of vitamins and minerals, and way of living variables these kinds of as tobacco, drugs, and alcoholic beverages. This kind of exposures can interfere with nutrient absorption, metabolic process, microbiome composition and exercise, and other important biological procedures. So, when we glimpse at that best level of nourishment, we would have to have to study all of these points together, using an exposome framework, and look at other variables these types of as exercising and existence phase, for the reason that ideal nutritional concentrations change over time.

Necessary nutrition

RW: You described the exposome, which refers to the totality of our environmental exposures through everyday living. Can you increase on the importance of studying eating plan itself as an exposure variety?

SS: Diet plan may characterize the most significant publicity that folks have in their each day existence, and it is surely one of the most critical. For example, exposures that we get from foodstuff and beverages deliver vitamins and minerals to potentially defend towards environmental insults, or they could introduce compounds that disrupt usual metabolic processes. Of study course, we know that genetics is an essential determinant of sickness hazard, but we also know that there is a url between diet regime and the onset, progression, and severity of numerous health conditions.

Some environmental exposures cause swelling, which can pave the way for illness. On the other hand, there are some vitamins and minerals, such as omega-3 fatty acids, that could overcome inflammation. In addition, critical vitamins and dietary phytochemicals can serve as antioxidants mainly because they scavenge totally free radicals that can hurt mobile membranes. Also, I pointed out earlier the value of genetics. It turns out that when some natural vitamins are metabolized, they are associated in how genes are expressed. So, for example, we have vitamins and minerals that perform a position in DNA methylation, which is a style of epigenetic transform, this means it alters gene expression but not by altering the fundamental genetic code.

I want to emphasize that important vitamins are called critical since they are unable to be synthesized by the entire body or synthesized in the amount required by the physique. These vitamins and minerals are vital for regular expansion, improvement, and replica. They give energy, and they serve as cofactors in hundreds of significant biochemical reactions associated in regular metabolic process. So, if you really don’t have crucial nutrients at your ideal degree at the right time and suitable position, your rate of metabolism may possibly not purpose appropriately.

Dietary interventions

RW: Can you provide Environmental Issue audience with a couple of illustrations of metabolic disruptions you have researched and opportunity nutritional interventions you have determined?

SS: In one particular research, we looked at stool biospecimens of overweight persons who were diagnosed with osteoarthritis and some people diagnosed as not acquiring osteoarthritis. In the very first team, we identified substantial metabolic disruptions related to excretion of goods of proteolysis, which refers to the breakdown of proteins. That indicated the potential for intestinal permeability, and that can be harmful for the reason that if you split down the intestinal barrier, your absorption of vitamins and minerals can be adversely impacted. Also, this intestinal breakdown encourages increased inflammation owing to leakage of intestinal microbial goods into the blood.

We were in a position to propose a nutritional intervention managing for the ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s, meaning we required to see bigger omega-3s to mitigate inflammation. We also proposed a larger degree of fiber in the diet since that is connected to the production of small-chain fatty acids. We saw that these shorter-chain fatty acids and the microbes that deliver them lowered in the osteoarthritic team. We also saw an affiliation between environmentally relevant chemical substances and perturbations in endogenous fat burning capacity, which may well engage in a position in onset or progression of illness. I need to notice that I am not the individual who presents suggestions for the reason that these seriously want to be created in session with registered dietitians. They’re going to be the persons who can hook up with a presented neighborhood and genuinely fully grasp what their requires are and what their foods entry condition seems like, which can inform tips and aid to cut down disparities.

A different review included investigation of individuals with opium use ailment. We saw disruption throughout various metabolic pathways, and based mostly on that info, we proposed what I contact a nutrient cocktail. It would involve certain vitamins, vitamin-like compounds, and other vitamins that may enable to cease the enhancement of addiction, development of habit, and relapse. Our conclusions are broadly relevant to other medicine and to some extent tobacco use, and we’re fired up about increasing on this perform in the foreseeable future.

Advancing precision nutrition

RW: I understand that you are taking part in the National Institutes of Overall health Popular Fund’s Nourishment for Precision Health [NPH] initiative, which will assistance to expand on the All of Us Investigation Plan. Can you explain what research you will conduct?

SS: My staff will perform in-depth analyses applying metabolomics tools that we produced many thanks to NIEHS help for our Human Health and fitness Exposure Assessment Resource hub. Participants in our NPH cohort will give information regarding their recurring eating plan, and we’ll also obtain info about physical measures and behavioral phenotypes.

In addition, some men and women will acquire specific diet programs, which will permit for even larger perception into how folks respond to their nutrition in mixture with elements such as tobacco, drugs, treatment, and other environmental exposures. We’ll analyze the metabolic consequences of review participants’ diets and see how the outcomes fluctuate across their diets and exposures.

A important component of NPH is that there are collaborating clinical websites across the state, and we plan to consist of a varied inhabitants. That will allow us to dive deep into precision diet, and I consider it will lead to significant discoveries. I am excited that our team at UNC Chapel Hill and the NRI will add to this project, and I appear forward to looking at the science progress.


Dashing BR, McRitchie S, Arbeeva L, Nelson AE, Azcarate-Peril MA, Li YY, Qian Y, Pathmasiri W, Sumner SCJ, Loeser RF. 2022. Fecal metabolomics reveals items of dysregulated proteolysis and altered microbial metabolic rate in being overweight-related osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 30(1):81–91.

Li YY, Ghanbari R, Pathmasiri W, McRitchie S, Poustchi H, Shayanrad A, Roshandel G, Etemadi A, Pollock JD, Malekzadeh R, Sumner SCJ. 2020. Untargeted metabolomics: biochemical perturbations in Golestan Cohort Analyze opium ssers tell intervention methods. Front Nutr 7:584585.


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