As written for Cabarrus Magazine.
From the community to the clinic, the NC Research Campus (NCRC) is changing the landscape of healthcare from reactive and treatment-centered to a more personal, genetically-targeted and nutritionally-focused approach.
Kristin Newby, MD, MHS, MURDOCK Study principal investigator and a cardiologist with Duke University, explains that whether it is called personalized, stratified, precision or individualized, the future of healthcare is a movement from a “population-based, one-size-fits-all approach to a more sub-segmented treatment or prevention strategy focused on smaller groups of individuals.” The smaller groups allow doctors to determine responders and non-responders to therapies, nutrients and health-promoting plant compounds.
Scientists and doctors with the Duke University MURDOCK Study – an NCRC-based longitudinal health study – are differentiating responders and non-responders through the investigation of the biological samples donated from close to 12,000 community participants. They have identified gene variants, proteins and metabolic markers that are giving new insights into the understanding of and treatments for obesity, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
The UNC Chapel Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) is making similar discoveries in the field of nutrition. The NRI concentrates on understanding how the human system varies, from genetics to metabolism, and how and why individuals respond to nutrients differently.
According to Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD, NRI director, the institute is building a catalog of genetic differences that, one day, can be used to provide nutrition advice based on a person’s genetic profile, potentially reducing their risk for chronic disease.
“Through the evolution of our research,” Zeisel says, “we will reach a finer identification of who will respond and who doesn’t respond to certain nutrients. It will change our understanding of what things you can do in diet that might help prevent the development of disease and better treat it.”
The NRI, Cabarrus Health Alliance, the Dole Nutrition Institute and the NC State Plants for Human Health Institute are doing even more to change the landscape of healthcare. They are spearheading community nutrition classes, cooking demonstrations and online resources that give people reliable information on which to base decisions about healthy living, which is the number one defense against chronic disease.
Investing in the next generation of scientists and medical professionals is another way in which the NCRC is influencing the direction of healthcare. The Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP) pairs undergraduate and graduate students with the NCRC’s leading scientists to research strawberries, oats, broccoli, blueberries and, starting in 2016, bananas and pineapples. The goal is to understand the compounds plants make and how they improve human health.
At the NCRC, the goal is to change the future of health by providing more effective and more personal and plant-based solutions while creating more opportunities for people of all ages to learn about nutrition and find paths into scientific careers.