Updated: Jun 15
Despite being one of the most advanced nations in the world, the United States is a middling nation when it comes to prenatal health care and the outcomes of pregnancy.
Gene Gazer would like to improve that.
At its base, the innovative approach to prenatal nutrition, which will present at this year’s Invent Oregon Collegiate Innovation Challenge, will leverage the ever-evolving science of nutrition and genetics to create a more complete prenatal nutrition supplement. Such a prenatal supplement will ensure that pregnant mothers and babies in utero will have the nutritional resources they need to develop in a healthy way.
“Gene Gazer at its base is a platform for personalized nutrition,” said Daniel Freed, the project lead and a master’s candidate in business administration at the University of Oregon. “What we're trying to do is use science for healthier babies. We're looking at biomarkers. That's genetics, that's blood levels of vitamins and then personalizing the supplements specifically for optimal health.”
Personalized nutrition supplements are new in the world of nutrition, an industry dominated by flimsy science, fads and momentary trends. With the growth in the field of genetics, there is new opportunity for scientists to combine nutrition science and genetics, yielding novel ways of ensuring that the body has exactly what it needs to support life.
But prior to Gene Gazer, there really wasn’t any way to peer into an individual’s genetic code and reveal the kind of nutrition that would optimize that individual’s health.
“There's a lot of friction there trying to go through essentially a 23andMe report, take fifty thousand individual data points and then make a useful recommendation that could be impactful,” Freed said, referring to the consumer genetic testing service. “And to do that without necessarily involving dozens of geneticists and really building a platform to streamline the service to get women the help that they need with personalized nutrition.”
The United States ranks 33rd out of 36 OECD countries in the infant mortality rate. The causes are complex, and while nutrition may not necessarily play a causal role, it is a complicating factor in a country that also ranks poorly among OECD countries in metrics of obesity.
Prenatal supplements are also not the only important area of concern for Gene Gazer. There are a wide variety of applications for which it would be useful, including mental health, whose connection with the gut is still becoming understood.
“We are trying to build a much broader platform than just prenatal,” said Freed. “There's a lot of emerging research that, for instance, postpartum depression is influenced by a woman's intake of omega three fatty acids. So the omega three fatty acids could be a preventative treatment for postpartum depression.”
“We aren’t on the traditional side of medicine where you have a disease and they cure you. We are on the precision side of medicine where we are trying to be both predictive and preventative and intervene before a disease happens.”
That could make a critical difference for mothers and all Americans alike.