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Quantum cascade lasers to help optimize individual food plans

19 Dec 2018

Swiss QCL maker Alpes Lasers heads up new European project that will generate personalized plans for improved nutrition in young diabetics and premature babies.

The European Union is backing a new €8.6 million research project that will use analytical equipment based on quantum cascade lasers (QCLs) to develop personalized nutritional plans for premature babies and children.

Coordinated by Swiss QCL specialist Alpes Lasers, the four-year “Nutrishield” project also involves the Vienna University of Technology spin-off company QuantaRed Technologies, which has developed QCL-based analytical tools.

They and the other 14 partners are set to carry out three clinical studies under the duration of the project, and to develop different analyzers for testing urine, breath, and human milk.

The clinical trials will focus on personalized nutrition for young people with obesity and/or type-2 diabetes; adding to the nutritional benefits of mother’s milk for feeding premature babies; and an exploration of the relationship between nutrition and cognitive decline in young people.

Individual needs
According to a project factsheet, the idea is to take into account the way that each individual responds to different nutrients and food types, by analyzing a combination of phenotype, genome expression, microbiome composition, health condition, mental and psychological condition, alongside each person’s ability to procure food.

“There is a general expectation from society that food will be safe,” say the project coordinators. “However, what can be considered as ‘safe’ for many people may not be for a few others. Each individual responds differently to the same food or nutrient.

“The need for an efficient and reliable platform to personalize nutrition, based on the acquisition and scientific interpretation of genetic and acquired factors, is today evident.”

Project leader Maurizio Tormen from Alpes Lasers told optics.org: “The idea is to have QCL-based instruments available for medical doctors, specifically designed to provide useful information to generate personalized nutritional plans.

“Besides these novel instruments, the project aims to create a mobile platform, user-friendly for [non-specialist] people needing personalized nutrition plans, so they can have a daily guide with the smallest number of check points with specialists.”

Fingerprint region
Tormen added that the precise nature of the biochemical markers to be monitored with the QCL instrumentation was now under discussion with the 16 partners involved in the project. In terms of the optical techniques to be exploited, QCL-based absorption spectroscopy is one option, although others are being looked at.

“We will base the new techniques on spectroscopic products already developed by partners in the consortium, and adapt them to the specific need,” Tormen said, noting QuantaRed’s products as an example.

That means the specific lasers and wavelengths required are yet to be decided, but Tormen pointed out that with Alpes’ capability covering the 4-11 µm range, the complete “molecular fingerprint” region of the mid-infrared spectrum can be accessed.

While the new QCL equipment developed will be user-friendly, it will be aimed at use by specialists. However, the project will also look to develop mobile application software that will require no specific clinical knowledge, and provide instant feedback to project participants based on personal medical information.

That element will be delivered using a combination of cloud-based artificial intelligence and information about the actual diet of those taking part in the trials.

Backed with €7.2 million under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, the Nutrishield project received money under the “healthy and safe foods and diets for all” element of the “informed consumer choices” funding strand.

Participants held a kick-off meeting last month, and the project is set to run through the end of October 2022.

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