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Using novel monitoring technologies to combat diet-related diseases

Using novel monitoring technologies to combat diet-related diseases

A new research project has launched to investigate the relationship between diet and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by trialling innovative monitoring technologies, such as wearable smart-cameras, and developing artificial intelligence tools to deliver personalised dietary advice.

Unhealthy diets are associated with metabolic changes and increased risk of NCDs, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. According to the World Health Organisation, NCDs kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 74% of all deaths globally.

However, little is known about the dietary mechanisms that actually drive NCDs, and the current tools used to collect dietary information rely on self-reporting, which can be unreliable. There is also a lack of data relating to vulnerable groups, such as those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, where NCDs are often over-represented*.

Led by AZTI, a research centre based in the Basque County, Spain, the EU and UKRI-funded CoDiet project will address these knowledge gaps and develop a bespoke artificial intelligence-based tool that can assess individual, diet-induced NCD risk and deliver personalised dietary advice.

The project builds upon research from Imperial College London, including the development of an intelligent, wearable camera and personalised nutrition. The camera is one of the tools to collect dietary information that the project will test. The camera is designed to be worn on the ear and passively record what the wearer eats; it will use novel computer vision and deep learning techniques to automatically recognise food types and estimate portion sizes. This will be coupled with other technologies that help us understand how food is processed in the body, including analysis of the gut microbiome and metabolites in the urine.

The project will also develop a tool that will simulate change in NCDs in response to diet at the population level, with the goal of promoting the uptake of NCD-protective diets. Currently, efforts to tackle these issues on a population scale take a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and the hope is that personalised dietary advice can lead to more effective results.

At Teagasc, Food Bioscience researchers Dr. Orla O’Sullivan and Professor Paul Cotter are partners in the project. Using the facilities at Teagasc’s DNA Sequencing Centre at Moorepark and the researchers’ vast expertise in microbiome analysis and bioinformatics, they will focus on improving our understanding of the importance of individual variation in response to diet to the risk of NCD, as well as investigating NCD risk factors. This will give insight into the targeting of dietary NCD advice.

Lead researcher Dr. Itziar Tueros, Head of Food and Health at AZTI, said: “It is well established that each person’s metabolic response to the same diet differs. CoDiet will work on the personalisation of dietary advice instead of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

“In order to develop a holistic solution to the major challenge of preventing NCDs, it is essential to assemble a multidisciplinary team of leading scientists. This is what CoDiet does.”

Professor Gary Frost, Head of Nutrition Research at Imperial College London, said: “One of the major gaps in our knowledge is accurate understanding of what people eat in their day to day lives. The tools we currently have are inaccurate which makes it very difficult to understand the relationship between diet and disease.

“CoDiet puts this problem at the centre of the project and brings together a number of new technologies to address this shortcoming. By doing this we believe we will be able to design new individual-based policies to prevent common lifestyle-related diseases.”

Dr. Orla O’Sullivan, the project’s leader at Teagasc comments: "We are excited to be part of the CoDiet project with our international colleagues. We will utilise our existing microbiome knowledge and the DNA sequencing facilities and expertise at Teagasc to enhance our knowledge of NCD and the potential impact of personalised dietary advice.”