Uni and CSIRO embark on unique venture
Thursday, 2 October 2003
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
The University of Adelaide and CSIRO, thanks to Greek physician Hippocrates and the founder of modern medicine, are taking this maxim into the 21st century with a visionary research partnership designed to advance the understanding of the relationships between nutrition and health.
The new alliance aims to use modern scientific techniques such as genomics (study of all the genes of a living organism) and proteomics (study of proteins produced by cell type and organism) to develop novel nutritional approaches for the management of disease.
"The alliance brings together the expertise of both institutions to enable us to better understand the effect of different foods in our bodies - at the level of protein molecules being expressed in cells and tissues.
"This new research is the latest development in a long and proud tradition of research on food and nutrition in South Australia. From the research of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens in the nineteenth century on new crop plants, to the efforts of Professor T. Brailsford Robertson who produced the first insulin in Australia in the 1920s, to Professor Basil Hetzel's research on thyroid disorders and human iodine deficiency, Adelaide has been at the forefront of research in this field," says Professor Edwina Cornish, the University of Adelaide's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research).
More recently, in 2002 the University of Adelaide and CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition jointly funded the establishment of the $200,000 Brailsford Robertson Award to promote collaborative research in the life sciences with particular emphasis on food, nutrition and health.
"While the importance of diet to maintaining good health has long been recognised, researchers now believe that diet may also be modified to treat chronic disease.
"It is known, for example that an excess of certain types of dietary fats may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer, while others may be protective. Many of the foods we eat produce active compounds that, when tested in the laboratory, appear to be beneficial in reducing the risk of bowel cancer," says Professor Cornish.
It is now possible to identify, using high throughput screening, the specific food components that are biologically active. Moreover we are able to determine the relationship between genetic make-ups, responsiveness to food components and vulnerability to or protection from disease.
"Definition of the activities of food components will allow improvement in health through dietary modification and fortification, the production of novel foods, and development of "nutraceuticals or functional foods" (foods designed to have specific health effects).
"Genetic variations that predispose some individuals to disease and specific nutritional requirements can also be identified. Characterisation of such variations will enable targeting of nutritional advice and treatment to "at risk" groups," says Professor Cornish.
The first new project under the alliance involves CSIRO funding of a post-doctoral fellow for three years to drive the research activity to understand nutrient-proteome interactions. CSIRO's involvement in this project is part of the national Preventative Health Flagship (P- Health), a multidisciplinary research effort coordinated by CSIRO.
CSIRO and the University of Adelaide will be working together to understand what role the food we eat might play in helping to prevent or delay the onset of bowel cancer.
Director, Preventative Health Flagship
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Professor Peter Rathjen
Faculty of Sciences
The University of Adelaide
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Ms Robyn Mills
Media and Communications Officer
The University of Adelaide
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