The Foods for Health Institute welcomes Aifric O’Sullivan, our first postdoctoral scholar dedicated exclusively to FFHI research. Dr. O’Sullivan presented her research at a FFHI colloquium related to metabolomics – or, the study of metabolites in the body, which are products of a person's metabolism. These metabolites can reveal a lot about a person and how their diet and lifestyle contribute to health status.
Dr. O’Sullivan first became interested in metabolomics after attending a seminar at the University College Dublin, which ignited a spark of interest and inspired her to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of metabolomics at the University College Dublin. While obtaining her Ph.D. she became familiar with the metabolomics-based research taking place at UC Davis. She was particularly interested in how this research can be used for personalized nutrition.
After finishing her Ph.D., Dr. O’Sullivan accepted a postdoctoral position with the FFHI and moved to UC Davis. She says the position has provided her the opportunity to be exposed to several areas of research related to nutrition and overall health and she is currently working on several different projects with the FFHI. However, Dr. O’Sullivan points out that her major focus is metabolic phenotyping, broadly defined as research that attempts to characterize people based on their individual response to various diet and health interventions. A more personalized nutrition regimen can be created by clustering individuals into groups based on what types of metabolites in their body produces and in what amounts. This work directly correlates with the mission of the FFHI, since metabolic phenotyping allows for tailored nutrition recommendations, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
As part of the FFHI colloquium series, Dr. O’Sullivan presented her doctoral research on metabolic phenotyping. Using different clustering methods she was able to show that the metabolic profile or urine can reflect dietary patterns of individuals, and that certain metabolites can act as markers of specific foods. These metabolites or markers can help to define individual nutritional phenotypes. As well as gaining insight into typical dietary patterns, Dr. O'Sullivan looked at how metabolic phenotyping could be used to monitor specific dietary interventions. Poor vitamin D status has been associated with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Dr. O'Sullivan used metabolic phenotyping to identify people who respond differently to vitamin D supplementation. She identified a group of individuals with similar metabolic phenotyping who respond positively to vitamin D supplementation with respect to selected biological markers of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Dr. O’Sullivan’s research in identifying metabolic phenotypes will allow for the development of personalized nutrition interventions that can protect individuals from disease and optimize health status. Everyone is unique and requires a nutritional regimen just for them. This research is paving the way to do just that.