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This article was published 11/4/2016 (349 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A souped-up school bus converted into a mobile science laboratory will soon be stopping in communities across the province to gauge the health of at least 1,200 Manitobans.
It’s all part of a $1.4-million cross-sectional study orchestrated by the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals at the University of Manitoba.
Research Manitoba contributed $1 million to the study and the Richardson Centre spent $400,000 customizing the unique mobile lab.
"You come in. We take a blood sample. We ask about diet, about sleep. We measure physical fitness using a bike and a monitor so we see how fit you are," says Peter Jones, director of the Richardson Centre and lead investigator of the study.
"You have to poop in a pot. You have to pee in a bottle. We measure your bone density and your body fat and you go out the other end two hours later."
The bus hit the road April 1, Jones says.
The purpose of the study — known as The Manitoba Personalized Lifestyle Research (TMPLR) program — is to take a close look at how genetics, sleep, diet and exercise affect the health of Manitobans between the ages of 30 and 46.
It will also examine the impact of so-called "good" bacteria in our guts.
"The biggest hot button in nutrition this decade is gut microbiome talk," says Jones, referring to term used to describe the billions of micro-organisms in every person’s digestive system.
Jones, a U of M food sciences professor and Canada Research Chair in functional foods and nutrition, has conducted numerous studies for yogurt companies that look at the effects of probiotics, or beneficial bacteria.
Researchers hope their results will help prevent chronic illnesses such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes that afflict at least 50 per cent of Manitobans, according to the Richardson Centre.
Study participants will visit the mobile research unit — or the Richardson Centre’s headquarters at the U of M — on two consecutive days to undergo testing and to supply biological samples.
Testing will include scans to measure body composition and bone density and physical-activity monitoring to assess maximum aerobic capacity and strength. Participants will also wear activity monitors for one week to assess daily physical activity and sleep patterns.
Thirteen Manitoba researchers will work on the study. Their fields range from kidney function and exercise science to statistics and gut microbiota.
Meghan Azad, the junior lead investigator of the program, specializes in pediatric health and, in particular, the gut microbiome of infants.
In a first-of-its-kind study in 2015 that garnered world attention, Azad found babies with fewer varieties of gut bacteria were more prone to develop food sensitivities, and in some cases, allergies, by age one. She and her colleagues got the results by testing the fecal matter in babies’ diapers.
This time, Azad will assess health by talking with adults about their early lives.
She will also survey mothers of participants to get a better picture of their childhoods.
"I’m excited to be able to look at how what happened in early life is now affecting their health as adults. Most of the studies I’ve done to date have been looking at babies and following them as they grow up."
Azad says it will take two or three years to gather all the information she and her colleagues need from the 1,200 Manitobans — and at least another year to analyze the data.
The biggest challenge they face, she says, is finding links among the "massive amounts" of information they will collect.
"So figuring out how to link the microbiome data, the genetics, the diet, the activity — and sort of come up with an understandable answer for all this."
In particular, Azad’s maternal survey will ask mothers of participants to recall how long they breastfed.
"That’s an interest of mine and we’ll look at whether that has any association with chronic disease outcomes that are measured," says Azad, an assistant professor at U of M.
She notes that breast milk may contain beneficial bacteria that contribute to health.
Azad and Jones hope the study will become long-term.
"We’re hoping to come back in a handful of years and see whether our predictions were right... to see whether there really are the linkages we’re predicting between those novel aspects of lifestyle, health and outcomes," says Jones.
Cross-sectional studies such as the TMPLR program have their pros and cons. According to an editorial in the scientific journal, Evidence-Based Dentistry, such studies are relatively cost-effective, quick and allow scientists to study numerous risk factors and outcomes. The disadvantages, according to the journal: cross-sectional studies only offer a snapshot of the population and may provide different results if conducted during another time frame.
For more information about how to become a TMPLR study participant, visit www.tmplr.ca.
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