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NIH Seeks Biomarkers for Measuring Nutritional Status

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A new program led by the National Institutes of Health seeks to identify, develop, and distribute measures of nutritional status with a focus on specific markers for nutrients.

The Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development (BOND) program, led by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), will focus on using markers, such as proteins in the blood, to test for nutrients or the lack of nutrients in the body and use that information to inform researchers, clinicians, and public health policy.

Along with NICHD, the BOND program is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, European Micronutrient Recommendations Aligned, the Micronutrient Genomics Project, and PepsiCo, as well as collaborations with other US and global health agencies and private organizations.

NICHD hopes that the biomarkers the project develops could be used to discover how much of a particular nutrient someone has eaten, whether a person's diet is too low or high in one nutrient, the role that a nutrient serves in the body, and how a person or a group may respond to a treatment or intervention.

"The BOND program is committed to developing nutritional biomarkers that are accurate and can be used to assess nutrition across a variety of different settings," NICHD's Project Officer for the BOND program, Daniel Raiten, said in a statement.

The program will be split into two main tracks. One of the tracks will provide support for researchers who are working to identify additional nutritional biomarkers and how they may best be used.

Initially, BOND will focus on identifying biomarkers for micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals that are needed only in small quantities to ensure normal metabolism, growth, and physical well-being. Deficiencies in these micronutrients are common in developing countries, but also affect certain groups in the US, such as women and adolescents. Measures of such nutrients could help governments and aid organizations decide how to target nutrition programs and interventions to those who most need them.

The first group of micronutrients that the BOND program will take up includes folic acid, iodine, iron, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and zinc.

The program's other track will focus on providing advice on biomarkers based on scientific evidence. Under this program, groups of experts will review scientific studies on current nutritional biomarkers and provide advice about what biomarkers are the most appropriate for assessing particular nutrients.

These reviews also will be tailored to the needs of specific users, such as healthcare workers, researchers, and officials developing programs to combat nutritional problems at the community-level or nationwide.

"Not everyone in a given population may be deficient in a particular nutrient," Raiten said. "So providing nutrients to everyone in the population might actually be harmful in some cases, resulting in some people receiving too much of the nutrient."

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