An international symposium on the role nutrition plays in the prevention and management of pregnancy complications and early childhood diseases such as autism, asthma, obesity and cancer was held on Friday in Australia.

“Nutritional genomics is an emerging area of science that is making a significant difference in our approach to enhancing health outcomes by improving our understanding of how to prevent harmful genetic changes that cause developmental defects and degenerative diseases,” says Professor Michael Fenech from CSIRO Food and Nutritional Sciences.

“In recent years, this research is probably best recognised for identifying how folate assists in reducing neural tube defects during pregnancy.”                             

Professor Fenech is internationally renowned for developing quick and reliable techniques for detecting damage in DNA, then applying them to define nutritional requirements for preventing diseases caused by genetic abnormalities such as cancer.

Held last Friday, The Nutritional Genomics (“A Healthy Start to Life”) Symposium was the second in a series of annual events initiated by Professor Fenech and his research team at CSIRO.

“Each year we examine a specific health challenge,” he said. “The 2009 conference focussed on nutritional genomics and the ageing brain. This year, we explored the link between nutrition, its genetic effects and the quality of development during conception and early childhood.

“We know that it is important for mothers to eat well during pregnancy and we should feed our children healthy, nutritious food. What foods are best and how much of these foods we need is still unclear. This symposium shed some light on these important questions.”

One of last week’s speakers, Professor Jill James from the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute, is the world’s leading expert on applying nutritional genomics to identify and correct the metabolic disorders associated with autism.

“Bringing these top researchers together enhanced our understanding of how nutrients interact with our genes and the resulting health outcomes in early life. It also helped to identify any knowledge gaps for future research and demonstrate new scientific approaches to these challenges,” Professor Fenech said.

“Ultimately, we hope to establish a national collaborative network on nutritional genomics, which will enhance the current breadth and quality of research in this important field.”

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