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The Foundation awards DKK 60 million for research on the role of gut microbiota in diet and health

The Novo Nordisk Foundation will help researchers to improve understanding of how gut microbiota affect our health by awarding nearly DKK 60 million to focus on an insufficiently explored theme within research on diet and disease prevention. Photo: Mikal Schlosser

We often say that “you are what you eat”, but individuals actually react differently to the same diet. One reason is that people’s guts contain massive communities of microbes – the gut microbiome – that function differently at an individual level.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded nearly DKK 60 million through its Challenge Programme to a research project led by Tine Rask Licht (photo), Professor, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, that will examine how gut microbiota influence the individual response to diet.

“We need to better understand the link between diet and the human microbiome, so that we can use diet to improve our lives and health in a targeted manner. We have decided to support this specific project, because its unique focus on bacteria can lead to new strategies for preventing diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, which can be partly remedied by dietary changes,” says Niels-Henrik von Holstein-Rathlou, Head of Biomedicine and Health Research, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Insufficiently explored field
The bacteria in the body convert a small part of the food we eat into new substances called microbial metabolites. These metabolites can affect our immune system, our hormone balance, our health and possibly even our mood. More knowledge about how bacteria influence this dietary conversion is therefore needed.

“Bacterial growth physiology is an insufficiently explored aspect of research on the interaction between diet, gut bacteria and health. We know very little about why people’s bodies react differently to the same diet. Our project will therefore investigate how the gut microbiome contributes to this variation and which environmental conditions in the gut control the growth and activity of the microbiota,” explains Tine Rask Licht.

When researchers improve the basic understanding of how microbial growth and nutrient conversion affect health, this can be used, for example, to develop personalized dietary recommendations. This will greatly help in preventing conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, in which diet is an important factor, but may also have implications for treating or preventing other types of diseases.

“Our research can provide an opportunity to predict how a specific individual will react to a specific diet and thus enable individualized dietary plans that suit the person’s gut and microbial communities. This may give greater motivation to follow the individualized advice instead of the more generic dietary recommendations,” says Tine Rask Licht.

The Foundation has awarded Tine Rask Licht DKK 59,991,650 for the research project PRIMA – towards Personalized Dietary Recommendations Based on the Interaction between Diet, Microbiome and Abiotic Conditions in the Gut. The project is a collaboration between research groups at the Technical University of Denmark, the University of Copenhagen and a university in Belgium.

DKK 300 million allocated across three themes
The Foundation has awarded DKK 300 million for research through the 2019 Challenge Programme. In addition to the grant in How Dietary Factors Affect the Human Microbiome, the Foundation has awarded DKK 120 million for research in Modern Plant Science – Towards a Sustainable World and DKK 120 million for research in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Every year, the Foundation’s Challenge Programme awards more than DKK 100 million for research projects on specific challenges within annually selected research themes. The Foundation has just opened for applications for the 2020 Challenge Programme, with up to DKK 480 million being awarded allocated across the four research themes. Read more about the themes and the application process here.

Further information

Tine Rask Licht, Professor, Technical University of Denmark, phone: +45 3588 7186, [email protected]

Christian Mostrup Scheel, Senior Press Officer, phone: +45 3067 4805, [email protected]