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Arnold School of Public Health

NIH awards CHI, with a $1.5 million grant to adapt the Dietary Inflammatory Index, into clinical applications to help patients reduce chronic inflammation

February 18, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, 

Connecting Health Innovations LLC (CHI), a company evolved from the research within the Cancer Prevention and Control Program (CPCP), will transform the patent-pending Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII), which was invented by James R. Hébert, into a comprehensive set of tools for use by medical professionals and their patients over the next 2.5 years with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The index, which was developed in 2013, ranks 45 foods and micro and macronutrients for their inflammatory properties and has been scientifically proven to predict outcomes related to inflammation, ranging from inflammatory markers to cancer (especially colon cancer), diabetes, asthma, depression and metabolic syndrome. Currently, the group is collaborating with close to 100 research institutes, governmental agencies and universities across the globe to explore the association between the DII and various inflammation-related outcomes in different populations. The importance of this work is underlined by a large body of research linking chronic inflammation to virtually all of the chronic diseases that cause the majority of disability and death in the U.S.—diseases that affect more than 50 percent of the population and result in health care costs that add up to more than $470 billion annually.

CHI, in collaboration with USC, will develop the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System. The first step will be to create a mobile technology App, DII ScreenTM.  Medical professionals can use DII Screen™ to efficiently screen patients for high-inflammatory diets. Once deemed at high risk, participants will be referred to the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System, which facilitates patient-physician interactions, provides guidance on dietary modifications and promotes group-based learning and support. Additionally, the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System will make use of the previously developed IF Tracker™ which provides a self-monitoring system for patients to effectively track and measure the inflammation in their diets. Dietary data collected through the IF Tracker™ will then be used to calculate the DII, which will be reported back to the physicians and dieticians for the counseling portion of this system. An intervention to test the effectiveness of the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System will be conducted by Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy from the Arnold School of Public Health.

“Over time, we believe we can use this novel approach to create a national model to combat the growing epidemic of both obesity and inflammation-related chronic illness in the United States,” says CPCP Director Hébert who is also a Health Sciences Distinguished Professor in the Arnold School’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Funding for this project comes from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases within NIH, which supports a wide range of medical research through its various programs. This particular grant mechanism is a Small Business Innovation Research grant, which is designed to empower small businesses to commercialize promising inventions. USC is the largest subcontractor on this project. Nitin Shivappa and Michael Wirth, who received doctoral degrees from the Arnold School’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, are the Co-Principal Investigators on this grant. Shivappa, who graduated in August 2014, based his dissertation work on developing the DII and using it to predict various health related outcomes. Michael Wirth, who graduated in 2012, served as a post-doctoral fellow at the CPCP for two years, and is now a research assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, in addition to his appointment with CHI.

The team will use the CPCP-inspired small business, CHI, as a mechanism for developing and disseminating the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System. Founded by Hébert in 2013, this start-up company was established to leverage the work he spearheads on the health effects of inflammatory diets by bringing CPCP innovations to commercial markets. Exploiting what we know about the ability of diet to control inflammation, CHI will be able to reduce health care costs by identifying at-risk patients through their innovative approach and use of technologies. Promoting diet modification to reduce inflammatory potential before it manifest into inflammation-related diseases is the primary goal of CHI. Understanding the potential to save lives and money, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina will serve as the organization’s primary commercialization partner.

Day-to-day operations for the project on the CHI side will be managed by Co-PIs Shivappa and Wirth and Project Coordinator, Julia Houston. USC will be responsible for running the intervention study to test the feasibility of the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System. This will be managed by Turner-McGrievy, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior, and Thomas Hurley, CPCP’s Senior Research Associate. Additional collaborators include specialists who will lead or consult on various aspects of the project, such as the technological development of the Apps, application of technology-based behavioral interventions, nutrition and lifestyle counseling, developing business plan strategies, and trial oversight.