The cost of diet-related chronic disease – including obesity, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer – may soon exceed $1 trillion per year in the United States.
This reality highlights a critical need for researchers and clinicians to better understand and quantify the cause-and-effect relationships between the foods we consume and poor health outcomes. And differences in patients’ genetics, disease history, physical activity and “food environment” – the physical, social and other factors that affect the availability and accessibility of food – highlight the importance of tailoring dietary guidelines in more precise, individualized ways.
To help bring attention to these questions, Cornell will host a Precision Nutrition Symposium, Oct. 14-15, designed to foster the development of collaborative and multidisciplinary working groups from Cornell’s Ithaca and New York City campuses.
“While we currently provide dietary advice to populations through mechanisms such as the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, there is a growing understanding that subgroups of people differ in their responses to food intake,” said Anna Thalacker-Mercer, assistant professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and symposium lead organizer. “The goal of the symposium is to highlight ongoing research and to catalyze future research efforts to generate the evidence needed to define optimal dietary intakes for health.”
In this era of precision medicine, researchers and clinicians are increasingly able to use their understanding of differences among individual patients in the response to treatments to achieve better patient outcomes.
Precision nutrition similarly refers to the tailoring of nutrition to individuals or groups of people to account for differences in the response to dietary intake with the goal of optimizing the prevention and treatment of disease and the maintenance of health and wellness.
The symposium will bring together investigators from Cornell’s Ithaca campus, plus Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech in New York City, to advance research on precision nutrition and address knowledge gaps. This diverse group of researchers will bridge expertise in nutrition, immunology, genomics, metabolomics, proteomics, systems biology, engineering and computational approaches to advance researcher and clinician understanding of how nutritional needs change with age, disease and other factors.
“The unique strengths of our faculty across the three Cornell campuses will allow us to develop new multidisciplinary approaches to address key questions in our understanding of how diet, nutrition and the microbiota influence health and disease,” said David Artis, director of the Friedman Center for Nutrition and Inflammation and the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Weill Cornell Medicine.
“The expertise in nutritional sciences in Ithaca,” Artis said, “coupled with our basic and translational expertise in immunology and host-microbe interactions at Weill Cornell Medicine provides a unique opportunity to expand our fundamental knowledge in this area. It also provides the opportunity to integrate the emerging science across the Cornell undergraduate, graduate and medical school curricula.”
“To date, the Office for Academic Integration has supported seven intercampus symposia, and already the payoff has been huge, with faculty doing collaborative work that has emanated directly from their experiences at each of these gatherings. We expect this to occur with the Precision Nutrition symposium,” said Dr. Gary Koretzky ’78, Cornell’s vice provost for academic integration, a Cornell initiative focused on generating vigorous research collaborations between the Ithaca, Cornell Tech and Weill Cornell Medicine campuses.
Faculty organizers of the symposium include professors Thalacker-Mercer, Joeva Barrow, Martha Field, Zhenglong Gu and Saurabh Mehta from the Division of Nutritional Sciences, on the Ithaca campus, and Dr. James Lo in the Weill Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.
“The Division of Nutritional Sciences, the largest academic unit in the U.S. dedicated to studying nutrition, identified advancing precision nutrition as a major focus in its five-year strategic plan in 2017,” said division director Patricia Cassano. “The multidisciplinary faculty in the division are actively committed to working with partners across the Cornell community to fulfill our mission to improve human health and well-being globally through nutrition.”
The Precision Nutrition Symposium is one of four funded by a 2019 Intercampus Research Symposia Grant through Cornell’s Office for Academic Integration. Additional funding for the symposium was provided by the Division of Nutritional Sciences, a shared unit of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as well as the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease and the Friedman Center for Nutrition and Inflammation at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director for communications for the College of Human Ecology.