Skip to Content

Assessing the utility of metabolite profiles of human serum, urine and saliva for determining dietary intake

Assessing adherence to the Mediterranean diet; new tools, biomarkers and associations with healthy ageing


Outline, including interdisciplinary dimension

The aim of this project is to develop biomarkers of adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and examine whether such a diet is associated with healthy ageing in populations across Europe.  The studentship will initially develop highly novel analytical methods to determine adherence to a Mediterranean diet. Metabolomics is a multidisciplinary science used to understand the ways in which nutrients from food are used in the body and how this can be optimised and targeted at specific nutritional needs. The Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s houses a multimillion pound state-of-the-art metabolomics facility where the prospective PhD student will be trained. The association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet, using these new metabolomics biomarkers, and healthy ageing (in terms of cardiometabolic health, cognition and frailty) will then be examined in both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies across Europe with diverse dietary habits (Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing and the French Three-City Study), and in dietary interventions increasing adherence to a Mediterranean Diet, conducted in QUB.

The proposal is focused on improving dietary assessment within population studies, through the use of metabolomics biomarkers, and then using this more objective method of dietary assessment to understand more about how the Mediterranean Diet may be linked with healthy ageing.  Ultimately such work will allow the testing of numerous hypotheses around diet-disease and diet-function relationships in older people. The resulting knowledge has clear potential for use by, firstly, the research community, and then by healthcare professionals, to improve assessment of the human diet. This research can also be used by policy makers to inform policy and practice about the care of older people, and inform the general public about how diet and appropriate nutrition can maintain and perhaps increase healthy life years."

Key words/descriptors

diet, cognition, healthy ageing, biomarker assessment, dietary assessment

First supervisor

Dr Brian Green - School of Biological Sciences/Institute for Global Food Security

Secondary supervisor from a complementary discipline

Professor Jayne Woodside - School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences

Supervisors’ track record of PhD completions, plus excellence and international standing in the project area

Brian Green has supervised >9 PhD students to completion. He is an expert in the metabolomic profiling of human samples and has used this approach to discover biomarkers of dementia/cognition.

Jayne Woodside has supervised >15 PhD students to completion.  She is an expert in dietary assessment methods and has published widely on the use of biomarkers to improve dietary assessment and in dietary pattern methodology.

Intersectoral exposure and/or international mobility

(e.g. secondments to/collaboration with partner organizations)

The project involves working with another longitudinal cohort of ageing in France, and the student will be able to spend time within this centre, gaining access to dietary data, ageing phenotype data and biological samples to allow the successful completion of the project.

Describe briefly the international profile of the partner

Dr Catherine Feart is a tenured researcher at INSERM, embedded in University of Bordeaux.  Dr Feart has published widely in the field of Mediterranean Diet and the assessment of adherence to a Mediterranean Diet, as evidenced by her CV (total of 62 publications listed on Researchgate).

Training that will be provided through the research project itself

The successful student will receive comprehensive training and develop skills in metabolomics/biomarker assessment, traditional dietary assessment techniques, and statistical analyses of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies.  The student will also develop comprehensive knowlege of the assessment of cardiometabolic, cognitive and muscle health and the links between diet and healthy ageing.

Examples of additional training in non-research transferable skills

Postgraduate research students at QUB have access to training and development opportunities within the Postgraduate Researcher Development Programme.  The Programme offers students a comprehensive range of training courses, 1-2-1 support and skills development opportunities (e.g. time management, scientific writing), supporting Postgraduate Research Students in developing a range of professional skills to successfully complete their research and increase their employability. In addition there will be opportunities for Postgraduate research students to mentor and supervise undergraduate Food Science students and engage with the local food industry in our regular stakeholder events.

Expected dissemination of results: peer-reviewed journals, seminars, workshop and conferences at European/international level

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

Deliverables and dissemination and knowledge exchange activity will include publications (at least three anticipated) in high impact journals and oral and poster presentations at local, national and international conferences, workshops held in IGFS and in INSERM, along with research briefs and topics, working papers and reports for practitioners, policy makers, the food industry and stakeholders.

Expected impact activities

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

Impact activities will be organised through the Institute for Global Food Security, Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland, food industry stakeholders, and will build on existing STEM activities, which include visits to schools, public talks, and events held at W5, The Balmoral Show and as part of the NI Science Festival.  Activities will focus on how to measure healthy dietary patterns, and how diet may be related to the maintenance of cognitive health.