The Personalized Nutrition Project

Weizmann Scientists Can Use Data about How the Body Responds to Specific Foods to Create a Diet Tailored to You

The food we eat affects our health and well-being – but how? One of the key ways is by changing our glucose levels. Glucose, commonly known as blood sugar, is the primary source of energy for the cells that make up our muscles and other tissues. In people who are overweight or obese, high blood sugar levels can cause a rise in insulin levels, leading to fat storage. High blood sugar levels are also associated with a number of serious health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

However, people have different metabolic responses to the same or similar foods. For example, two teaspoons of sugar in your morning coffee could mean the same thing in metabolic terms – fat storage – as one teaspoon of sugar for your officemate. That's why a diet won't necessarily provide the same results for everyone who tries it, even if they are eating the same foods and exercising the same amount. Recent theories suggest that this variability across individuals may be explained, in part, by differences in their absorption and processing of different types of simple sugars. This absorption takes place mostly in the small intestine, thanks to the hard work of a vast array of microbes – a group collectively referred to as microbiota.

At the Weizmann Institute of Science, Prof. Eran Segal of the Department of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and the Department of Molecular Cell Biology and Dr. Eran Elinav of the Department of Immunology are launching a project that is expected to provide many insights about the function of the microbiota and their role in glucose absorption on a personal level. In the experiment, over the course of ten days, the scientists are monitoring the glucose intake and absorption of hundreds of subjects and the activity of their microbiota. They are collecting data using several methods, including a glucometer that is attached to the subjects' bodies. Subjects can see their own blood sugar levels rise and fall throughout the day in reaction to the foods they eat. Using that data, the scientists will develop algorithms to predict individuals' personal response to a wide variety of foods. Subjects will receive access to a web site with these predictions, a profile of their own gut microbes, an analysis of how the microbes affect blood sugar, and a nutritionally balanced diet tailored just for them.

Prof. Segal and Dr. Elinav each bring unique expertise to the study, known as the Personalized Nutrition Project. Prof. Segal, a mathematician and cell biologist, develops computational models aimed at understanding how molecular components interact to carry out complex biological functions. An immunologist and an MD, Dr. Elinav is focused on understanding inflammatory bowel disease and investigates the microbes of the gut.

They hope the Personalized Nutrition Project will provide the first-ever comprehensive profile of the small intestine's microbiota, as well as the first tool for predicting individualized glucose response to complex meals. It could pave the way for designing customized, balanced diets based on scientific data about each person's microbial makeup. "If successful, our study may allow us to move from empirically based to personally based nutrition, and thus to personally tailored medicine," says Prof. Segal.

For more information about the Personalized Nutrition Project at the Weizmann Institute of Science, go to personalnutrition.org/Home. However, while the site permits users to register, please note that the project is only accepting people who live near the Rehovot, Israel campus, as participants must be physically present.

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