Identify biomarkers for metabolic health using a new challenge test

To identify and characterize early biomarkers of good health


Theoretical background

Health is a broad concept that is influenced by a variety of biological factors. Nutrition plays a significant role in the maintenance of metabolic homeostasis, and therefore, in the determination of health. Nutritional research aims to improve health by detecting both beneficial and harmful effects of food components; the effectiveness of this research depends on the availability of suitable biomarkers.

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Most of the currently used biomarkers indicate disease; clear deviations from the healthy state. This makes them less suitable to detect the subtle shifts in metabolism underlying differences in resilience. Furthermore, processes involved in resilience are not necessarily the same as those involved in disease, and for a number of physiological functions affected by food compounds, no accurate biomarkers are described.     

Outline of the project

This project aims to identify and characterize biomarkers that can be used to detect early signs of a weakened resilience and are possible indicators of decay of health in later life. These biomarkers will be important in the substantiation of health claims.

To identify biomakers of good health, two approaches will be used.

1. First approach: the development of a new challenge test

Acute challenge tests, such as the oral glucose tolerance test,are currently used to amplify the response to long term differences in dietary patterns. Read outs of challenge tests are thus sensitive indicators of an animals ability to cope with, and respond to stress.

The robustness of the homeostatic system against a certain challenge is expected to give an indication of good health and resilience.The optimal challenge test for this study would specifically stress the cardio-metabolic function and accurately detect early deviations from the healthy state.

2. Second approach: transcriptome analysis in healthy aging models

Caloric restriction is a common used dietary model for healthy aging; it prevents age-related alternations in gene-expression, and therefore increases life span. Whole genome analysis is an effective and sensitive way to measure the response to a dietary intervention since the regulation of whole metabolic pathways, instead of single genes, can be studied; and will hopefully reveal early biomarker genes for healthy aging.

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MSc students are very welcome to participate in parts of this study during an internship or thesis (eg. by performing rt-qPCRs, tissue histology, or biochemical analyses on stored samples; or by whole genome microarray analysis using the Agilent system).


For more information, please contact evert.vanschothorst@wur.nl