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Public-private research partnership announces £4M of projects to improve UK diet and health

6 August 2008

A unique public-private partnership between 3 Research Councils and 15 food and drink companies has today (06 August 2008) launched £4M of research projects with the aim of improving scientific understanding of the key issues linking diet and health so that food companies can address obesity, heart disease, anaemia and other health problems to the benefit of the consumer.

The Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC) is managed and led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and aims to bring together food and drink companies, public research funders and academic scientists to ensure support to the very best UK science so that consumers can quickly benefit from a better understanding of the link between diet and health. Funding has been awarded to university and institute scientists across the UK to investigate three main areas:

  • How foods can be developed to help fight obesity;
  • The processes that affect our decisions about what food we eat and the portion sizes we take;
  • The benefits to health of various nutrients found in foods - including fruits, vegetables, cocoa, wine and tea - and how best such nutrients can be efficiently delivered to where they are needed in the body.

The nine projects announced today are the first funded since DRINC launched in April 2007. A second round of projects worth another £3M will be funded in 2009.

Dr Doug Yarrow, BBSRC’s Director of Corporate Science, said:
“The funding of these projects by DRINC represents an open and transparent collaboration between publicly funded science and the food industry. This work will ensure that the food industry can access the best of UK science to address some of the most important health issues faced by the UK today.”

Dr Alistair Penman, Chair of the DRINC awarding panel and independent consultant, said:
“The projects funded by this partnership represent both world-class science, with some of the best diet and health researchers in the UK involved, and relevant science that we think will make a real, beneficial difference to the way we eat and the health of people in the UK.”

A full list of projects funded by DRINC is listed below. Amongst the highlights are:

  • Satisfying foods – research at the University of Birmingham to develop mechanisms for keeping the stomach fuller for longer and also tell the brain that the stomach is pleasantly full. The research could lead to new foods to tackle obesity by telling the brain to stop eating sooner and preventing snacking between meals.
  • Why do we ‘supersize’ – researchers at the University of Bristol will examine the psychology behind how filling we think a food will be before we decide how much of it to eat. The work will help us to understand how to present food so people take in reduced levels of calories.
  • Maximising the health benefits of chocolate, tea and wine –
    it is well known that the flavanols in cocoa, tea and wine have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. However, processing these foodstuffs, such as through heating, dramatically affects flavanol content. Researchers at the University of Reading will examine flavanols in cocoa and investigate what happens to them in the human digestive system and how they have a beneficial effect on human cells.


Notes to editors

About the projects

The nine funded projects are as follows:

  • “Self structuring foods with slow burn for control of satiety”
    Professor Ian Norton, University of Birmingham

    This group aims to develop food that is digested slowly to provide a prolonged sense of fullness and satisfaction. Low levels of nutrients will be released in a controlled way to bridge the gap between meals and avoid the discomfort arising from a feeling of fullness without the expected energy delivery. They hope to do this by using foods that will form a gel when they contact the low pH of the stomach environment thus slowing down the stomach emptying process.
  • “Understanding decisions about portion size: The key to acceptable foods that reduce energy intake?”
    Dr Jeffrey Brunstrom, University of Bristol

    We make decisions on how much to eat based on the particular food type in question. Dr Brunstrom’s group will be asking questions about how we decide how filling a particular food is going to be before we choose how much to eat. By examining the characteristics of food that affect this decision it is hoped that foods could be developed that would ultimately reduce the number of calories taken in.
  • Enhancing delivery of minerals using multifunctional carriers
    Dr Roger Parker, Institute of Food Research; Professor Susan Fairweather-Tait, University of East Anglia

    Intakes of vitamins and minerals have fallen as a result of lower energy requirements associated with modern sedentary lifestyles. This can result in nutritional inadequacies, in particular iron deficiency, unless the micronutrient density is increased e.g. by fortification. In this project, novel food structures will be developed that can deliver iron in an absorbable form, by tailoring encapsulation material to respond to the changing environment of the digestive tract.
  • “Drivers of eating behaviour during chronic overconsumption: Role of food hedonics (liking & wanting) and peptide biomarkers on satiation and satiety” Professor John Blundell, University of Leeds
    This group will focus on two pairs of factors that drive chronic overeating. Firstly they will ask which of two components of the pleasure of eating is more important - 'liking' or 'wanting. And secondly they will ask whether large meal size or weak suppression of hunger following the eating of food is more important in allowing overeating. These effects will be linked to underlying physiological processes.
  • “Defining the gut-to-brain signalling mechanisms underlying responses to nutrients”
    Professor David Thompson, University of Manchester

    Professor Thompson’s work asks questions about how the digestive system sends signals to the brain to indicate whether nutrition is required or eating should cease. It is hoped that a better understanding of these signals may lead to the development of novel foods that give a strong signal that a person is full.
  • “The effect of dietary bioactive compounds on skin health in humans in vivo”
    Professor Lesley Rhodes, University of Manchester; Professor Gary Williamson, University of Leeds; Professor Anna Nicolaou, University of Bradford

    UV radiation in sunlight is an important factor in skin health and ageing. In collaboration between three centres, the effects of compounds found in green tea on skin health following UV exposure will be tested in three ways. Firstly people will take green tea supplements and the protective effects will be assessed on skin that does not usually have a great deal of UV exposure (usually the buttock), secondly the ability of skin to take up these compounds will be tested, and thirdly the manner in which green tea compounds are acting will be explored.
  • “Bioactive Alginates and Obesity”
    Professor Jeffrey Pearson, Newcastle University

    By introducing a natural fibre from seaweed into bread, this group hopes to produce a food that decreases absorption of fats from food. This would ultimately reduce the number of calories taken in and also introduces the health benefits of increased dietary fibre.
  • “The Impact of Cocoa Processing on Flavanol Content, Absorption and Health Effects”
    Dr. Jeremy P E Spencer, University of Reading

    Studies have demonstrated beneficial effects on reducing cardiovascular disease from consuming wine, tea and cocoa due to their relatively high flavanol content. However, processing of these foods, heating for example, can dramatically affect flavanol content. This group will look at the effects of cocoa processing, find out what happens to flavanols in the stomach, small intestine and large intestine, and examine the ability of flavanols to have a beneficial effect on human cells.
  • “Dietary activators of antioxidant response element-linked gene expression for good vascular health”
    Professor Paul Thornalley, University of Warwick

    Everybody knows that fruit and vegetables are good for them, but the question is why? This group is examining the potential for health beneficial compounds found in broccoli, carrots, onions, tomatoes and rocket salad to activate genes that help to protect us against cardiovascular disease. This will reveal which varieties of common fruit and vegetables are likely to be most beneficial to maintaining healthy blood vessels.


The Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC) is managed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Research projects are awarded as BBSRC grants using peer review processes as for fully public funded research. A Steering Group, comprising six independent academic scientists and six industrial members, make the awards on the basis of scientific quality and strategic relevance to two research themes:

  • Bioactives in foods – includes, for example, understanding of how beneficial compounds work and how health claims may be verified.
  • Improved understanding of healthier diets – includes, for example, effect of food components on energy intake, and how foods might be designed to have precise nutritional properties.

DRINC is co-funded by BBSRC, the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and 15 company members: Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd, Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, Danisco, Danone, GlaxoSmithKline, Leatherhead Food International, Marks & Spencer plc, The National Association of British and Irish Millers, Nestlé, PepsiCo UK and Ireland, The Sugar Bureau, Unilever and United Biscuits.

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The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.


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