UNLV Startup Uses Genes to Create Personalized Diets

Food Genes and Me is a site and software that lets users figure out health risks and how to solve them within minutes.


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    The Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine at UNLV has launched Food Genes and Me, a site and software startup that draws data from genes to analyze health risks and generate personalized diets.

Newswise — It turns out you really are what you eat, according to UNLV scientists who have publicly launched a site that uses computer software to scan users’ DNA for potential health problems and create personalized diets that help lower the risks.

Food Genes and Me is a spinoff company developed by the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine (NIPM) at UNLV.

Your genes dictate how your body responds to the foods you eat, and therefore can be analyzed to pinpoint your perfect diet. The proprietary software is touted as an “add on” to current popular genetic analysis tools offered by sites such as 23andMe.com, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, and FamilyTreeDNA.com. It gives users the ability to see what medical issues they’re predisposed to and it delivers custom dietary suggestions.

“The goal with Food Genes and Me is to make suggestions specific to each person based on their genes,” said Martin Schiller, NIPM director. “We’re empowering you to act on something right away to affect your health.”

Users of 23andMe and similar sites (which use saliva samples to trace ethnic background and find relative matches) can download their genetic file then upload it to their account at FoodGenesAndMe.com. Within an hour, the software scans the data for genetic markers related to more than 100 health conditions, matches it to a USDA nutrient database, and churns out about 10 to 15 medical predictions with suggestions on food options and portion sizes to help combat the health hazards.

Each diet is specifically tailored to the user. For example, a user whose genes show that a predisposition to cancer may be lowered or eliminated by consuming calcium would receive a report on the top five calcium sources in foods and a recommendation that they add two 8-oz. glasses of milk a day to their diet or, as an alternative, 4 oz. of cheese. A different user’s genes may show that drinking more coffee than the general population would do the trick.

“Each person has their own diet, but then they have choices,” said Schiller. “Instead of having to keep drinking milk everyday to get your calcium, we give you options to switch it up.”

Food Genes and Me reports are free.

“For a few minutes of your time, you can have a personalized diet for life,” Schiller said.

The project, about three years in the making, was led by undergraduate Pascal Nilsson, who helped build the FoodGenesAndMe.com database and Jackie Newsome, a graduate student who wrote the computer program contracted by the company. The venture was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, which prepares scientists and engineers to extend their research focus beyond the university laboratory and develop commercial products that contribute to society and the economy.

Schiller said other companies have created similar programs, but they weren’t focused on variant quality or affordability for consumers. “Anything we’re using for prediction met strict scientific quality statistical metrics,” he said.

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