Technological advances bring new opportunities for scientific research to aid our understanding of human mechanisms.  This enables researchers and practitioners to build on traditional methods using different assessment tools to advance research and give the most appropriate advice to patients. 

One area which has seen particular advancement is nutrigenomics; the study of how diet and nutrients affect gene expression.  This includes analysis of mRNA, proteins and metabolites and can be used as a research tool to study the physiological effects of nutrition.  This is key in understanding how nutrition can effect health and disease.  Nutrigenomics technology is an emerging science which allows complex biomarkers to be analysed and may lead to developing new biomarkers for health.  However, caution must be taken to ensure that that the data collected is integrated, validated and meaningful.

Wearable and mobile phone technologies have seen vast advances in recent years which allows for continuous collection of biometric data.  This can reduce participant burden and provide more accurate, consistent data for a variety of health measures.  A recent study using wearable activity monitors carried out by The Nutrition Society Cuthbertson Medal winner, Dr James Betts, reported that participants who ate breakfast, expanded more energy during the day through involuntary movements, such as fidgeting, than breakfast abstainers.  This data would have been almost impossible to collect based on self-reported activity diaries alone (data collected as part of the Bath Breakfast Project).

Using mobile phones to record dietary intake and photograph food prior to consumption can be an effective method for dietary analysis, reducing reliance on self-report and recall.  Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Surrey, Dr Kathryn Hart says that ‘any method which reduces reliance on memory and shifts the burden of portion size estimation from the subject to the researcher should substantially improve the accuracy of dietary assessment’.  Dr Hart also highlights that ‘whichever assessment method you choose, training is essential to ensure you can provide appropriate prompts to the participant and can effectively assess the accuracy and validity of the data you receive and understand its limitations’.

Recognising the importance of emerging technologies for nutrition science, the Nutrition Society has chosen new technology as the topic of the 2016 summer conference held at University College Dublin, Ireland on 11-14 July.  The conference will focus on new methodologies, their application and how technology can be used in behaviour change.

Scientific Programme Organisers, Dr Breige McNulty and Professor Lorraine Brennan say ‘the conference aims to highlight the latest developments in the field and potential applications in nutrition.  The programme includes speakers from around the globe with a specific focus on dietary assessment, biomarkers, nutrigenomics, phenotyping, metabolomics and the integration of genetics and epigenetics.’