VTT is launching an extensive EU project called ETHERPATHS, studying the effects of dietary effects mediated by gut microbiota on lipid metabolism. The aim is to accelerate the development of health-promoting foods. The project develops computer assisted models with which food companies and research institutions, for instance, will be able to predict the effects of foods in the body.

The ETHERPATHS project focuses on the balance of lipid metabolism in the body, the effects of foods in tissues and the role of gut microbiota in these processes. Lipid metabolism disorders are associated with several common health care problems, such as ageing, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The balance can be influenced by dietary means. The risk of chronic diseases decreases with a diet containing particularly omega-3 fatty acids and foods that contain fibres and phenol. Therefore, fatty fish, berries, fruits and vegetables may be favourable foods in terms of lipid metabolism balance. The body’s own phospholipids are assumed to mediate the health-promoting effects, but their mechanisms of action are still unknown.

The project develops computer-assisted models that emulate the changes in lipid metabolism brought about by eating fish and vegetable oil, berries, fruits and vegetables. The use of models makes it easier to combine data from animal studies and cell-level data in the interpretation of research data from clinical trials, thus promoting research in the health effects of foods and development of foodstuffs. The results of the project and the tools developed in it will in time also be available to in addition to food companies to companies and research institutions that develop diagnostics of health and disease.

The coordinator of the ETHERPATHS project is VTT's Research Professor Matej Oresic. The total project budget for 2009–2012 is EUR 8 million, of which VTT's share is EUR 2.5 million. The project involves a total of 10 European research institutions and companies.

The project partners are: VTT (Finland), University of Barcelona (Spain), University of Gothenburg (Sweden), University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), Institute for Systems Biology SPb (Russia), Federico II University of Naples (Italy), Noray Bioinformatics S.L.U. (Spain), BioMotif AB (Sweden), Advion Biosciences, Ltd. (United Kingdom) and Nestle Research Center (Switzerland). The project is part of the EU FP7 Cooperation Work Programme: Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology programme (KBBE-2007-2-2-08).

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