Thirst for data: Nutrition apps and software to be revolutionised by semantic technology

Apps, software and services that provide us with in-depth information about the food we eat have never been more popular. From calorie counts to gluten content, we want to know a phenomenal range of information about their food, and developers have been falling over themselves to create systems to provide us with this information.

However, getting this information has always been a challenge, with the majority making use of the US’ Food and Drug Administration database, which lacks the detail and range that many consumers crave.

“When it comes it nutrition, the quality of the data is low,” explained Massimiliano Del Vita, CEO and co-founder of Klappo, speaking yesterday at a demo day at Techspace, a London-based startup hub.

Klappo, a company just eight months old, is set on changing that by collecting in-depth nutritional data from a vast range of sources, including recipes, restaurant menus and packaging labels. The result is far more information that you would get from a typical food label.

They make this information available to developers, who can then use it to make more sophisticated nutritional apps and software, such as apps that tell you if a product contains lactose or gluten, or if a recipe suits a specific diet.

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Klappo’s system is far more sophisticated because of its use of semantic technology. This means it can ‘read’ the data to extrapolate advanced nutritional information.

“This is really powerful as it allows us to know what food i made of, what ingredients it is made of,” explained Del Vita.

For recipes, for example, it doesn’t just use the list the ingredients but instead semantically reads the instructions to create an accurate picture of what the cooking process is and what the resulting nutritional information will be; a factor that will change depending on how food is prepared.

For recipes the company can calculate 160 macro and micronutrients, a vast improvement on the majority of products that only tell you the calorie count.

The system will be immensely valuable to existing food blogs and recipe sites, with a leading Italian blog set to start using the technology within the year.

From the 4th July, when Klappo launches in the US, the company will also have data on 400,000 pre-packaged food products.

“This, I would say, is the vast majority of packaged products in supermarkets,” said Del Vita.

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The company are targeting the US and Europe, where data is accessible, although hope to expand further over time.

Klappo is keen to keep the data they collect clear and without bias so that it can be easily used by a vast range of developers.

“Our idea is to be as unbiased as possible for companies to use the data,” explained Del Vita. “There’s a lot of things we can do to map the information that can be used externally.”

Despite Klappo’s small size – just five employees – the company is reaching for the stars.

“We want to be the Google of this,” said Del Vita.


Mini lab-grown human hearts could hold cure for heart disease

Tiny hearts that are only one millimetre in diameter could hold the key to curing heart disease.

The  hearts, created by scientists at Abertay University, are being used to test treatments for heart hypertrophy, providing new insights on how to combat the disease.

Hypertrophy is the number one cause of sudden death in young people. It can be a hereditary condition, but can also be induced by other diseases like diabetes, or even simply by too much physically demanding exercise.

To develop different treatments, Professor Nikolai Zhelev and his team of scientists from the Scottish university grow the healthy hearts from stem cells.

Next, they chemically create the conditions that trigger hypertrophy. While hearts have been grown in this way in the past, this research marks the first time that scientists have been able to cause disease in them.

As the heart becomes hypertrophic, its cells begin to grow abnormally, enlarging them to the point where the heart can no longer function.

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Biosensors track the paths of the molecules within the tiny hearts so that Professor Zhelev can see which ones cause hypertrophic conditions.

Then, he is able to tailor drugs to the specific molecules so that they do follow these same paths, effectively stopping the hypertrophy before it begins.

Professor Zhelev is testing many different drugs with varying levels of success.

Interestingly, a drug originally developed to treat cancer is also having positive results on these miniature hypertrophic hearts.

A number of compounds are still being developed, and those that are most effective will go through even more tests before human patients trial them.

To understand the effects of these drugs more quickly, Professor Zhelev has partnered with Professor Jim Bown, a systems biologist who employs computer modelling and gaming technology in mapping cells.

Professor Bown said the relationship between the hands-on experimentation and computer modelling as a joint effort: “The way this will work is by taking information about how the cells grow from Nikolai initially, building models based on that data and making suggestions to him about which experiments to try out next.”

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Thus, researchers can perform fewer physical experiments and still collect data-rich results.

Groundbreaking both for the method of testing these tiny hearts and for the combination of technologies, these promising techniques could someday be used to develop cures for other diseases, too.

Professor Bown has already presented research showing potential for applications in treating cancer, and further research will continue to shed light on how these innovations can both prevent and cure.


Images courtesy of Abertay University