Biomedical Sciences Research Institute

Centre for Nutrition and Bone Health

    Centre for Nutrition and Bone Health

    Background

    The Nutrition team at the University of Ulster (Ulster), in collaboration with Joint Irish Nutri-genomics Organization (JINGO) partners in Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and University College Cork, have successfully competed for substantial funding from the Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland) Cross-Border Research and Development Programme: Strengthening the all-Island Research Base to establish a Centre for Nutrition and Bone Health at Ulster.

    This new bone health centre will significantly strengthen Ulster’s expertise in nutrition generally and, in particular, its widely recognized work on the disease which causes fragile bones Osteoporosis.

    Osteoporosis is a systemic skeletal disease characterized by low bone mass and a deterioration of bone structure, with a consequent increase in bone fragility and susceptibility to fractures. Fractures caused by osteoporosis are estimated to affect 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 years, with associated annual costs to the health services of £1.8 billion in the UK and 30 billion in Europe. [Source: Lanham-New SA; Importance of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K for osteoporosis prevention and treatment; Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67: 163-176, 2008].

    The Department for Employment and Learning’s Cross-Border R&D Programme is investing £17.2 million to support the Northern Ireland universities in building additional and sustainable research capacity and capability that will contribute to the development of an all-island research infrastructure through meaningful, collaborative research with leading research teams in the Republic of Ireland. These research collaborations are being targeted at areas of research that are socially and economically relevant, both to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland as a whole.

    The Centre for Nutrition and Bone Health

    The Department for Employment and Learning initiative has provided funding, in excess of £1.2 million, to establish the Centre for Nutrition and Bone Health at the University of Ulster. This virtual centre is based in the state-of-the-art Centre for Molecular Biosciences at Ulster’s Coleraine Campus, and is aimed at building additional and sustainable research capacity in nutrition and bone health, with a particular focus on identifying strategies to prevent osteoporosis, a crippling bone disease that strikes people as they grow older and a serious public health issue with major health, economic and social consequences.

    Researchers in the Centre for Nutrition and Bone Health will work with long-established research partners in the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance to drive a major cross-border survey of 6,000 people (one of the largest of its kind ever conducted in the UK or Ireland). This survey is investigating three of the most common chronic diseases of ageing Osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s Disease and Stroke and, as part of this initiative, Ulster researchers will conduct 2,000 bone density scans on people in Northern Ireland.

    The project at Ulster is being led by Helene McNulty, Professor of Nutrition & Dietetics, and seeks to build upon the Ulster’s existing cross border research activities and collaborations in nutrition and bone health.

    The new initiative will greatly enhance the ongoing research activities of the JINGO project, enabling the researchers to extend the size and scope of the data being generated through JINGO and to build on the expertise and experience gained. This will ensure that the existing nutrition research capability will be greatly enhanced not only at Ulster but on the Island of Ireland as a whole.

    At the launch of this new initiative Professor McNulty (pictured above) said that:

    Nutrition research surveys centering on human bone health and disease have often been limited to samples as low as 100 to 200 people. But, to get a true picture of the relationships between the various factors involved, particularly the genetic factors, you need access to data from a far bigger sample than this. This 6,000 person study will give Ulster new insights into the causes and genetic interplay of osteoporosis. By simultaneously examining the role of nutrition and genetic factors in Osteoporosis, in Alzheimer’s disease and in Stroke, we hope to be able to identify factors that leave people open to the chronic diseases of ageing.

    The size and extensive nature of this survey will be of enormous benefit in developing strategies (dietary and environmental) on an all-Ireland basis to prevent osteoporosis which not only causes suffering and loss of independence to its victims but also puts a massive strain on health spending North and South.

    Objectives

    The overall aim of the Centre for Nutrition and Bone Health is to develop a new expert research capability focused on nutrition and bone health, particularly targeted at identifying strategies to prevent osteoporosis. There will also be a focus on knowledge transfer both to the health service and to the local food industry as well as on promoting innovation and creativity with respect to novel functional foods targeted at people with specific genotypes who are at risk of impaired bone health.

    The specific objectives are:

    To build on and add value to existing cross-border research collaborations established through the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance and the JINGO project aimed at investigating gene-nutrient interactions in the development of chronic diseases of ageing

    To gain from the experience of the JINGO project in order to develop an expert research capability specifically in the area of nutrition and bone health at the University of Ulster (in partnership with members of JINGO).

    To identify strategies to prevent osteoporosis, a crippling bone disease with major health and social consequences that impact adversely on the lives of many people on this Island.

    To sustain the new resource beyond the funding period through attracting further grant income and further research collaboration among JINGO partners.

    To strengthen our existing cross-border nutrition alliances throughout the Island of Ireland.

    Further information about this Cross Border project can be found in this news release

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    This project is supported by the Department for Employment and Learning through its "Strengthening the all-Island Research Base" initiative

    Contact details

    Investigators (from University of Ulster):

    Professor Helene McNulty, Principal Investigator (PI)

    Professor Sean (JJ) Strain Dr Julie Wallace Dr Mary Ward

    Partners

    Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health, University of Ulster Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University College Cork (Lead Investigator: Professor Kevin Cashman) School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity College Dublin (Lead Investigator: Professor John Scott) Institute of Food and Health, University College Dublin (Lead Investigator: Professor Mike Gibney)

    Relevant Links

    Joint Irish Nutri-genomics Organization (JINGO)

    The Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance

    Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health, University of Ulster

    Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University College Cork

    School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity College Dublin

    Institute of Food and Health, University College Dublin

    The National Osteoporosis Society (N.O.S.)

    The N.O.S. Belfast Support Group

    The International Osteoporosis Foundation

    Help the Aged

    Help the Aged: Health Advice on Osteoporosis

    National Health Service: Conditions

    Age Concern

    Alzheimer’s Research Trust

    Alzheimer’s Research Trust Northern Ireland Network Centre

    Alzheimer’s Society

    Northern Ireland Chest, Heart & Stroke Association

Attached documents