HNRCA Launches National Center for Precision Health

The $8.23 million NIH grant will support an innovative personalized health study to predict individual responses to food and dietary patterns

National nutrition guidance is on track to become much more individualized, thanks to research that will soon begin at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University, as part of a five-year national effort supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Designated this week by the NIH as one of six Clinical Centers in the country for the initiative, the HNRCA will receive $8.23 million to participate in an innovative study to develop algorithms to predict individual responses to food and dietary patterns. The funding will support the NIH Common Fund’s Nutrition for Precision Health (NPH), powered by All of Us Research Program to improve the understanding of nutrition and inform more personalized nutrition recommendations.

The goal of this large national research initiative is to combine the many factors that affect how individuals respond to diet into a personalized nutrition regimen. These potential factors include dietary intake, microbiome—the community of bacteria that live in our gut—metabolism, nutritional status, genetics, and the environment. 

“Food drives health, and the NIH and USDA recognize that nutrition is very critical to achieving a healthy lifespan,” said HNRCA Center Director Sarah Booth. “This initiative is the culmination of what the HNRCA has been working toward for 40 years. Receiving this grant is very gratifying and validates the contributions the HNRCA and Tufts has made to the field of nutrition.”

The HNRCA will collect data from a cohort of 2,000 people from the All of Us Research Program—an initiative with a goal of building a diverse health database from one million people across the United States—with All of Us program partners Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Boston Medical Center. The collaboration of Boston health care institutions led by Tufts will be formally known as the Clinical Center for NIH's Nutrition for Precision Health: The All of Us New England Research Collaborative.

In the first phase of research, the HNRCA will be part of a consortium that designs and leads research studies that will collect basic measurements of people’s diets and their nutritional status. In the second phase, participants will adhere to a prescribed diet in their own living environment. In the third, participants will reside at the HNRCA while on the prescribed diet.

The HNRCA has been conducting these types of studies for 40 years, Booth said. “Our dietitians, nurses, scientists, study physicians, and diet technicians have written the book on how to do this effectively. Our decades and decades of research have demonstrated the variability of how individuals respond to nutrients,” Booth said. “The ultimate goal now is to gain a better understanding of what factors drive that variability, and incorporate it into future dietary guidance, so that people live healthier for longer.”

That goal is at the heart of precision nutrition, also called nutrigenomics—a field founded, in part, by José Ordovás, lead scientist of the Nutrition and Genomics Team at the HNRCA. “For decades, like most other scientific areas, nutrition research has been under the tyranny of the averages, hiding the dramatic interindividual differences in dietary response,” Ordovás said. “Thanks to new technologies, we are finding paradoxical results, such as people who have a healthier glucose response to eating a cookie than eating a banana.”

The NPH precision nutrition clinical centers will pave the way for greater understanding of such results, Ordovás said. “For the first time, these studies will be conducted with the sample size large enough to develop solid predictive algorithms and answer many burning questions related to precision nutrition.”

Heading the HNRCA’s efforts will be Sai Das, a scientist on the HNRCA’s Energy Metabolism Team. “This national initiative will provide the much-needed data to move away from one-size-fits-all diet recommendations and create customized diet plans for people based on individual differences, such as nutritional status, genetics, and metabolism.”

Das said the initiative represents team science at its best. “We are honored that Tufts was chosen as one of the national clinical centers and will lead a consortium of such prestigious Boston medical facilities.”

“Years of scientific discovery at the HNRCA has brought us to a place where we are taking a leadership position in moving the study of precision nutrition to the next level,” said Booth. “I’m so proud of all the researchers, including so many students, who have worked in the labs of the HNRCA—past and present.”

Nutrition for Precision Health, powered by All of Us Research Program, and All of Us are registered service marks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Grant number: 1 UG1 HD107691-01.

Monica Jimenez can be reached at

Back to Top