Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) Director Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD, recently presented before the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Nutrition Research Task Force (NRTF). The NRTF was established in October 2016 to coordinate and accelerate progress in nutrition research across the NIH. Currently, the NRTF is guiding the development of the first NIH-wide 10-year strategic plan for nutrition research. This plan emphasizes the importance of advancing nutrition research across a wide range of areas, from basic science to experimental design to training.

Since 2017, the Task Force has welcomed external speakers to discuss opportunities and gaps in nutrition research. In his presentation, Zeisel spoke on “Precision Nutrition: Examples of importance during the first 1,000 days of life.” A world-renowned scientist, Zeisel is credited with the discovery of choline’s role as an essential nutrient, particularly for women during pregnancy. The fetus and infant need choline for healthy development, but many women are sensitive to dietary choline intake because they have SNPs, or common inherited “spelling” differences in their genes that impact their metabolism of certain nutrients. Precision nutrition is necessary to identify women whose genetic differences may increase their dietary requirement for choline.

At the NRI, researchers are working to create a catalog of the genetic differences that change our metabolism. Researchers are also developing software that will allow health professionals to use this catalog and a DNA test to give personalized nutrition advice, ensuring that each individual is getting the proper balance of nutrients needed to live their healthiest life – from their first 1,000 days and beyond. By sharing our vision with the NRTF, Dr. Zeisel has paved the way for the NRI’s work in precision nutrition to be a vital part of the strategic plan that the NIH is developing for nutrition research.

Past speakers to the committee include Susan T. Mayne, Ph.D., Director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of Department of Nutrition, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

A draft NRTF strategic plan was released to the public in November 2018, and the public comment period came to a close in December 2018. The draft is undergoing revisions and final clearance. The final plan is expected to be available in 2019, after which the implementation process will begin.

The June 19 Task Force Meeting was attended by chair Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P, Director of the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and co-chairs Dr. Diana Bianchi, Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Dr. Gary Gibbons, Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; and Dr. Douglas Lowry, Acting Director of the National Cancer Institute were also in attendance.