TNO and industry collaborate to substantiate healthy dieting for improved phenotypic flexibility

PhenFlex: Phenotypic Flexibility (“ability to adapt”) as measure for health effects of diet and nutritional products • 11 Sep 2017

The measurement of beneficial effects of nutritional products on health remains a hurdle in the innovation pipeline of many companies. This is partly due to the lack of accepted single biomarkers that directly relate to health improvement. Furthermore, food composition and the physiological regulation of health are characterized by high degrees of complexity and variability. To show cause-effect relationships it is required to demonstrate changes in biomarkers as a result of a dietary intervention in human volunteers. Until now, however, most accepted biomarkers relate to risk factors for disease development, while observed effects should be convincingly considered as health benefits.

The ability to adapt

The central assumption of the PhenFlex project, an international public private research program that was initiated by TNO, is to define health as 'the ability to adapt' to perturbations that affect physiological homeostasis. In this view, the 'ability to adapt' is regarded as indicator for maintenance of physiological function, or resilience of the system. Loss of this ability may lead to development of disease. The system resilience approach includes application of a short term challenge test, followed by assessment of response profiles of multiple biomarkers related to maintenance of health. The objective of PhenFlex is to substantiate improvement of 'metabolic resilience' by complying to personalized healthy dieting advice. Moreover, the initiative also entails to generate acceptance of  ‘improvement of resilience’ as health benefit by regulatory authorities.

TNO in the Netherlands, as acknowledged leader in this field, is working at the front edge of exploring the 'ability to adapt' or 'resilience' concept and has been actively involved in various academic and industrial research consortia so far. Within the current consortium, the partners bundle strengths for further development of the methodology and broader acceptance of the concept by the global community.

Personalized approaches in healthy individuals

There is growing awareness and body of evidence that personalized approaches, both exploiting the individual’s health status and motivational aspects, bring additional advantages in optimizing health. Within PhenFlex it will be investigated if it is possible to obtain even better individual improvements, by providing personalized dietary recommendations during the dietary intervention study.

Diseased population

In addition, PhenFlex will provide a first insight into whether metabolic resilience can be improved in rehabilitating COPD patients in the clinic of CIRO+, the Netherlands. A positive outcome may serve as guidance for further development of personalized treatment schemes for this group of patients.

Public Private Partnership

In this 3-year Public Private Partnership, the partners bring in both in-cash and in-kind contributions. The partners in this consortium are TNO, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, BASF, BY-HEALTH, Biofortis Mérieux NutriSciences, CIRO+ and ILSI Europe. Co-financing is provided by TKI allowance from the TKI-Agri&Food Topsector. The total budget of the multidisciplinary project is over 1.5 million Euros.

For more information and details please contact Wim van Hartingsveldt.

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