‘We predict the health risks of foods that are still being developed’ - Marjolein Meijerink is medior scientist Immunology, who is clear about her mission. She wants food allergy sufferers to know what their food contains so they can safely and happily enjoy what they are eating.
“As a member of the Risk Analysis for Products in Development (RAPID) expertise group, I am responsible for assessing the allergenicity of new and modified dietary proteins. In the future we will need to produce these in large volumes worldwide to feed the growing global population.”
Revolutionary prediction model
“It is difficult to predict the health risks of products that are still being developed. We cannot test them on large groups of people, and since they are usually not being processed in factories yet, we cannot conduct research there either. The RAPID expertise group has developed a model that allows us to predict the allergenicity of new foods (partly) on the basis of the biochemical properties of proteins. This Random Forest prediction model is truly revolutionary and should ultimately enable highly reliable risk assessment.”
Always reading food labels
“I am a scientist through and through and am able to contribute most in early and shared research programmes. But even at that stage, it all centres on application. The fact that my research can be practically applied and has an impact on society is highly motivating for me.
I am always struck by this when I speak to a mother in a playground who is struggling with her child’s food allergy. Always having to read food labels, the constant concern that the child will eat something that triggers an allergic reaction. Working on innovative solutions that can eliminate this health risk makes my work very meaningful to me.”
The fact that my research can be practically applied and has an impact on society is highly motivating for me.
“I have always been fascinated by Immunology. It is a complex and challenging area of research. The answers are never black and white. I did my PhD at Top Institute Food and Nutrition and the Host-Microbe Interactomics Group at Wageningen University & Research. This involved studying the effects of probiotics on the immune system. After that, I did a postdoc in Host-Microbe Interactomics with Nestlé in Lausanne. In 2016, I joined TNO because wanted to work closer to the application of the research.
As an Immunology expert, I am also involved in developing systemic approaches to support strategies to promote immune health. We examine the existing knowledge and apply it as effectively as possible in developing new evidence-based products that promote immune health.”
A world without food allergies
“When we have created a world without food allergies, if such a thing exists, my work will be done. We can at least ensure that we develop foods with minimal allergenicity risks. And we can add functional ingredients that reduce the allergic response to other ingredients. By developing quantitative guidelines for ‘may contain’ labelling, we can ensure that consumers know what they are eating and drinking and can safely and happily enjoy it.”