‘Fragmented’ Europe needs nutrition research platform

EU project to create unified infrastructure for food and nutrition research

EU project to create unified infrastructure for food and nutrition research

A pan-EU consortium is looking to build an online ‘nutrition hub’ that will unify the way research relating to food, nutrition and health is done across the continent.

The consortium of universities, research institutes and private organisations is looking to win millions of Euros in funding to build a European nutrition platform that will store data and provide tools for healthcare professionals and research scientists across the continent.

The goal of building such a wide-ranging platform has been spun out of the EU-backed EuroDISH (Determinants, Intake, Status, Health) project – itself a chunk of research which looked at the best ways of unifying fragmented research facilities across Europe, including the challenges involved, and the future direction of food and health research infrastructure in Europe.

Paul Finglas, research leader at the Institute of Food Research, UK, who worked on the EuroDISH project, told NutraIngredients there is a pressing need for such a research platform, which would mark the first of its kind for the nutrition industry.

“We identified there was a gap. There are many research infrastructures in different areas of science but there was nothing in food nutrition and health, which is an important research area. You only have to look at headlines in the paper and see the number of kids who are obese and overweight.

“I think it would manifest itself into some sort of online, electronic platform where food data would be hosted, standardised and there would be various tools available of the data. So researchers could join that and use the tools and data,” he told us.

“I think it will enable researchers to expand their research activity more efficiently, give them access to other tools, network with other European scientists, provide training to younger researchers. There is a whole list of ways it can help.”

Finglas explained that he and others were working to build a consortium across Europe, which would include universities, institutes and private organisations to bid for EU funding for the project.

30m in funding – a 10 year plan

The new platform could be looking for as much as €30m in funding, as part of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructure (ESFRI) Roadmap, which identifies European research infrastructure projects recommended for EU funding.

Finglas addded: “If we were to get into the Roadmap in 2020, we would get European funding to build it. It would be operational probably by two or three years after that.”

“We are looking at a ten-year plan,” he said.

Some of the previous EU infrastructure projects have received between €20m and €30m in funding.

Flexible infrastructure

One of the key findings from the EuroDISH paper was that any new research infrastructure would have to be nimble and flexible.

A recent report published as part of the project said it “would have to be flexible and adapt to keep pace with an ever-changing research environment and bring together the different research needs of a disparate food and health research community.”

However, the paper stressed that there was a danger that building an open infrastructure could lead to drop in the ‘quality of scientific output’ and could have a negative impact on scientific governance.

Source: Trends in Food Science & Technology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.tifs.2017.03.006
“Concepts and procedures for mapping food and health research infrastructure: New insights from the EuroDish project”
Authors: Kerry Brown, et al

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