Sciona was founded in the UK in 2001 with the aim of translating the new knowledge gained from the human genome project into useful information that can benefit the average consumer. The company has grown into a leading provider of personalised healthcare information and is the market leader in terms of nutrigenomic tests sold. The practice and science of nutrition has arrived at an important juncture, both for the development of the science of nutrition and for its ability to impact public health. The reason for this exciting prospect is the potential for nutrition to deliver some of the first public health benefits of the Human Genome Project—personalized nutrition. The arrival and reality of this prospect may come as a surprise to many nutritionists and geneticists. However, it seems that personalized nutrition will be one of the first applications to provide widespread benefits, based on the colossal investment made in the Human Genome project.
"Let food be your medicine..." wrote Hippocrates many centuries ago, as valid now as it was then. These days though, thanks to advances in DNA and genetic research we can add a new dimension to this advice: personalisation. We are all different, we know that very well, and we know that we respond to foods and the environment in different ways. Nutrigenomics is the science of gene-nutrient interaction and it is allowing us to bring up to date the advice of Hippocrates. Fair skinned people know that they need to take precautions against UV damage from sunlight while dark skinned people need to take precautions against vitamin D deficiency. But what about our internal differences? We are now understanding much more about variations in the enzymes that metabolise foodstuffs and those that deal with environmental toxins meaning that we can start making small changes in our alimentation to take into account these differences, using nutrition to take health precautions.
Rima Rozen, one of the leading nutrigenomic researchers in the US recently wrote: “With the identification of polymorphisms, or common mutations, in vitamin metabolism, large percentages of the population may have higher requirements for specific vitamins” [Rima Rozen, Editorial, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002]
Each of us has our own particular requirements which are determined in part by our genetic make-up. For example the enzyme methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is involved in folic acid metabolism and 10-20% of the population have a version of this enzyme that works much more slowly, it has only about 35% of the activity of the normal type. The recommended daily dose of folic acid is 200ug and many studies have shown that if you have the slow version and your intake is 200ug then you are likely to have higher than normal homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease. Individuals with the slow version need to have a daily intake of 400-800ug to address this problem - an easy solution though since folic acid is easy to find and higher doses will do no harm, but may do a lot of good. There are many other enzymes where similar variations are found that affect the types and quantities of foods individuals should eat. By knowing the genetic profile of metabolic enzymes it is possible to tailor dietary advice. The advice is not drastic, there are no large scale eliminations, it is based on standard good dietary advice, good starting material that is tailored to fit the individual.
We can now begin to use the results of decades of nutrigenomic research to benefit the individual, to improve diets and long-term health. We are just at the beginning but we can already make useful alterations, and the future looks very interesting. Sciona has developed sophisticated bio-informatics tools to integrate personal lifestyle and genetic information with state of the art medical and nutritional research to create a user friendly report containing comprehensive dietary and lifestyle advice. Sciona’s main product is the Body Benefits Nutrition genetic screen: The latest advances in research have made it possible to create an effective diet and lifestyle plan based on a scientific analysis of the unique genetic profile. With professional genetic screening offered by Sciona, individuals can now make their most important health decisions based not on fashion, but on their own personal “inside” story. Since individuals are genetically different, they react to food and the environment in a unique way. The small differences in genes can influence how well the body metabolises foods, uses nutrients and removes damaging toxins or prevents their formation. These small differences and how the body deals with them can ultimately make a big difference to our health. By adjusting our diet and lifestyle to suit our genetic profile, we can make sure that the body functions at its optimum level. The Body Benefits results contain information on:
Heart Health - Some genetic factors make it more likely that certain individuals will develop heart disease. We offer these people simple advice to help reduce the risk.
B Vitamin Use - Some people have genetic variations that interfere with the way their bodies use B vitamins, an important factor in cell growth and maintenance.
Detoxification - Genes can determine how well your body cleanses itself of harmful toxins. If necessary, we recommend specific foods to give your cleansing systems a healthy boost.
Antioxidants - A genetically determined level of antioxidants controls how well our bodies neutralise free radicals, destructive molecules involved in aging and a variety of diseases.
Bone Health - Certain genetic factors indicate a need for foods that provide your bones with the nutrients they require to stay strong.
Inflammation - Depending on your genetic profile, you may need certain foods to fight damaging inflammation.
Insulin Sensitivity - If your genes increase your risk of insulin sensitivity, we will recommend dietary and lifestyle changes that help prevent this condition.
Sciona has a strong research base and is involved in several collaborative projects with UK universities as well as maintaining links with major research centres through NuGo.
Role in the Project
Sciona will be the Technical Coordinator of the Project and will have overall responsibility for co-ordinating the activities of the pilot centres. They will be responsible for the running of the Sample Collection and Logistics Centre, as well as for facilitating the genotyping and metabolic profiling and co-ordinating the collection of data from KlinBiochem, BHCA, and the Mondo Libero. Sciona will also be managing the quality control of the assays.