A group of UNEATLANTICO researchers conduct a study on methodologies based on human biology to improve nutritional research

24 May 2024
A group of UNEATLANTICO researchers conduct a study on methodologies based on human biology to improve nutritional research

Members of the research group “Food, Nutritional Biochemistry and Health” of the Universidad Europea del Atlántico, (European University of the Atlantic, UNEATLANTICO), including Francesca Giampieri, Sandra Sumalla, Iñaki Elio Pascual and Maurizio Battino, are conducting a study that explores the main research tools based on human biology in order to accelerate nutritional research.

From assessing food safety and understanding the role of diet in complex diseases, nutritional research has traditionally relied on simplified in vitro systems or animal models. Although these models have contributed significantly to mechanistic understanding, they fail to capture the nuances of human pathophysiological phenomena.

This disconnect gives rise to the need for a paradigm shift in nutritional research toward approaches more aligned with human biology. This problem, which leads to a high failure rate in preclinical studies and their subsequent advancement in research and clinical practices, raises questions about the application of these models in the understanding of complex diseases, in the study of therapies, active compounds, and in dietary and nutritional interventions in human health.

Many laboratory animals share a high degree of genetic similarity with humans, but are often inefficient in predicting human health effects and pathophysiological processes. Therefore, the scientific community is increasingly questioning current drug development strategies based on animal models and recognizing the need for a greater emphasis on human-centered research. In addition, these scientific concerns are compounded by growing public concern about animal suffering in laboratory research, increasing the commitment to exploring alternative methods to replace animals.

Over the past decade, there have been major advances in stem cell culture, three-dimensional (3D) cell culture, sequencing, and computation that have generated several human-centered and more physiologically relevant tools, known as “new approach methodologies” (NAMs). These tools include human pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) and their derivatives (organoids), dynamic cell culture and OoC, multi-omics technologies and approaches (transcriptomics, metabolomics and nutrigenomics) derived from global analyses of biological samples and computational modeling.

These methodologies are yielding significant and relevant results for human health in various fields of study. However, there are significant challenges associated with the widespread adoption of these new methodologies, as there are many researchers who still find it necessary to conduct animal experiments to validate results obtained using non-animal approaches before they can be published or receive adequate funding.

Dealing with this bias and recognizing that animal models may become physiologically irrelevant to understanding human disease is crucial to advancing nutritional research and using more relevant alternative approaches to understand the complex intertwinements between diet, health and disease.

If you want to learn more about this study, click here.

To read more research, consult the UNEATLANTICO repository.

The Iberoamerican University Foundation (FUNIBER) promotes several study programs in the area of health and nutrition, such as the Master in Nutrition and Food Biotechnology and the Specialization in Health Research.