KPU Partners with dnaPower to Study Nutrigenomics

Researchers will be looking at how genetics can affect your diet
Stephanie Davies, Contributor

Lois Nahirney, CEO of dnaPower at the organization’s headquarters in North Vancouver. (Submitted)

KPU and North Vancouver-based research company dnaPower are working together in the field of nutrigenomics.

“We have partnered with [KPU] and Dr. Karen Davison. What we want to do is be able to look at how DNA information and genetic information can be used to help you create a more personalized diet,” says Lois Nahirney, CEO of dnaPower. “If we can understand what is happening for our genetics on things related to food, there can be insight in terms of how we should be adjusting our diet in order to feel better and be healthier.”

Karen Davison, a faculty member of the Health Science Program, dietician, and health researcher, is leading KPU’s team in the partnership. She says that dnaPower was looking for a partnership with academia to help them develop some of their tools that could be more useful and relevant for health professionals.

The study involves looking at a few hundred areas in your body related to diet. With that information, researchers can create a personalized diet that’s adjusted to your natural genetic makeup.

“KPU’s got a strong nutrition program, so when I was introduced to Karen and found out that she had an interest in nutrigenomics, [we wanted to]…explore this,” says Nahirney. “I was really pleased with the strength of the nutrition and diet program that Kwantlen has and it just seemed a really good match.”

Nahirney assures that the type of genetic testing they’re doing is easy and non-risky; it involves a simple swab on the inside of the cheek.

“Sometimes people are worried about genetic testing. And we’re only doing testing on a couple hundred areas in your genetics, and so there’s no scary information,” she says. “We’re not looking at disease, you’re not sequencing your whole genome, we’re just looking at a few hundred areas. It’s fast, easy, and an affordable way to learn how your body responds to areas [in your genetics].”

The research team is looking at natural genetics related to metabolizing and processing carbohydrates, fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, gluten, lactose, and so on. It will study how genetic maps look in relation to metabolizing and processing commonly consumed items.

“The field [of nutrigenomics], if we were to define it, is the study of the role of nutrients and bioactive food compounds in gene expression” says Davison. “So, [when a] person gets a gene test done, the genes that are tested are specific to the metabolism of the different macronutrients such as carbohydrates, fat, protein, as well as selected micronutrients.”

KPU students who have taken the nutrition course in the health science program are also involved in the process, performing duties like nutrient analysis and data entry. More learning possibilities for interested students may arise in the future as well, and Davison is looking forward to the expansion of research opportunities in the health science program.

“There are other faculty members who do more of the bench work; looking at genes and doing those kinds of analysis in a broader context—not just looking at gene tests in humans, but also in plants and, for example, connecting with the brewery program,” she says. “We’re looking to develop that whole area at Kwantlen, so it’s not just looking at the nutrigenomics, but [also] at applications of the technology in different parts of science.”