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Talking Genes, Exercise and Nutrition With DNAFit

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Read time: 4 minutes

Since the completion of The Human Genome Project in 2001, genetic technologies have continued to advance at a rapid rate and are now considerably cheaper to run.

The availability of genetic testing subsequently extends beyond the medical field and consumers can now opt to pay for their genome to be sequenced for a variety of purposes. This may be to learn more about your ancestors and where your genes have evolved from, or even to gain insight into what your genes say about your body's relationship with food and exercise. 

DNAFit is a personalized health and wellness company that offers an array of nutritional profiling services based on genetic science and technology. We spoke with Avi Lasarow, CEO and founder of DNAFit, to learn more about why it is important to look at our genetics in relation to diet and exercise choices, and what research currently exists in the field.  

Molly Campbell (MC): Why do you think it is important to make nutrition and exercise choices based on our genetics?

Avi Lasarow (AL):
Genetics is a consistent and fundamental modifier of who we are. There is variation between everyone in terms of how much we can improve with exercise, what foods work best for us, and how much of a specific nutrient we require in order to optimise our health. This variation is partly due to genetic factors; how much varies from trait to trait, but on average we can say that around 50% of the variation between individuals is due to genetic differences. That’s quite a large proportion, and so if you can gain insight into your own genetic predispositions, it’s clear that you can make better decisions in order to maximise your health and fitness - and research backs us up on this.

MC: What steps are involved in translating information from a DNA sample to nutritional guidance? 

The steps are quite straightforward. First, an individual supplies us with a DNA sample, which is collected via a simple cheek swab. They then post this to our laboratory, where we analyze the supplied DNA for a series of genetic variants. We’ve chosen which genetic variants to analyze based on our scientific criteria, set by our Scientific Advisory Board. This means that we can be confident that the genes we’re analysing are important and relevant, as they are backed up by scientific research. Once we’ve analyzed an individual’s sample, which takes about a week, we create a report for them, which highlights the key areas in which they need to focus.

MC: What technologies and methodologies are most commonly adopted in your genetic testing laboratories? Can you discuss recent technological advances that have progressed your work at DNAFit?

We currently deploy a number of different technologies at our laboratories and laboratory partners, but our ambition is to move to full exome sequencing in the near future. We believe that this will unlock true value for our customers for a number of reasons. Firstly, the product and user experience which incorporates our current solutions offerings will remain outstanding. But, additionally, there will be a higher level of clinical depth data that can be used during the whole lifetime of the customer. We are starting this process with a launch in China currently scheduled for Q2 2019, with a view to replicate the technical architecture throughout our business and eco-system. Ultimately, this will position the Prenetics owned DNAFit as a global leader in terms of capability.

MC: The Diet Fitness Pro 360 is advertised as being able to provide personal training that "protects against injury with knowledge of your genetic predisposition". How does a DNA test reveal which injuries you are likely to sustain through exercise? 

We look at genes that are linked to the production of collagen, which is the main structural component of ligaments and tendons. Variations in these genes have been linked to an increased risk of Achilles tendon, knee tendon, and shoulder injuries. As a result, if we identify that a person has these genetic variants, we can give them advice on how best to mitigate this risk. For example, this might be increasing the amount of specific shoulder strengthening work a person does, or by introducing eccentric loading exercises for those at an increased risk of an Achilles tendon injury. 

MC: What are some of the most exciting nutrigenetic/ nutrigenomic breakthroughs you have encountered through your research at The Prenetics DNAFit Nutritional, Exercise & Health Genomics Research Centre?

We currently have a study under peer-review that compared the use of a genetically-matched diet (like the one provided to our customers) to a standard ketogenic diet. What we found was that, after two years, those who had followed a genetically matched diet had lost more fat and improved their health (measured by changes in fasting insulin, total cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) to a greater extent than those in the ketogenic diet group. This was an exciting finding, as it demonstrates the efficacy of genetic information in promoting fat loss.

Additionally, we’ve published two peer-reviewed papers which demonstrate the efficacy of two of the panels in our fitness report. In the first, we demonstrated that undertaking resistance training matched to your genotype lead to around three times as much improvement in a test of power (counter-movement jump) and endurance (Aero3) than undertaking training mismatched to your genotype. In the second, we demonstrated that our aerobic training algorithm successfully predicted the size of improvements seen in an aerobic fitness test in youth football players following an 8-week training programme.

MC: What challenges do you face in the research field? How do you anticipate overcoming these challenges? 

The main challenge is that we come up against a lot of scepticism. This is to be expected and is indeed welcomed so that as an industry we meet the best possible standards. We overcome this by continuing to invest time and focus in world-class quality research, ensuring we never make claims that cannot be supported with strong evidence, and a consistent minimum evidence base for all reports.

MC: There are several companies emerging that offer nutrition reports based on DNA testing. How do your research approaches differ to these companies?

There are many different genetic testing companies out there, but one aspect that sets us apart is that we have an active research arm that seeks to validate many areas of our product. At present, we have a number of published, peer-reviewed studies demonstrating the effectiveness of our fitness report, and we have a study currently under review which demonstrates the effectiveness of our diet report.  This is just the start, with many further studies in the pipeline, both in the field and with longitudinal data, which will soon be published.  I’m not aware of any other genetic testing company that produces peer-reviewed research on their product like this, so it’s clearly an area that sets us apart.

Additionally, we have very strict scientific criteria that determines which genetic variants we will and won’t report on. This ensures that the advice we give to customers is correct and accurate. Again, I’m unaware of any other genetic testing company that has an evidence threshold as high as ours. Furthermore, some companies are technically "re-sellers", and not in control of their own lab process. We offer the full holistic experience to our customers. 

Avi Lasarow was speaking to Molly Campbell, Science Writer, Technology Networks