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£4M goes to 9 new research projects aimed at improving diet and health

15 September 2010

9 new projects aimed at uncovering links between diet and health and worth a total of £4M are announced today (15 September 2010) by a public-private partnership of three research councils (BBSRC, EPSRC and MRC) and 13 food and drink companies. The new projects tackle issues such as reducing fat content or proportion of saturated fat in food, fortification with bioactive compounds including Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants and increasing the dietary fibre in white bread.

The Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC), which is managed and led by BBSRC, was set up to improve our scientific understanding of the link between diet and health. All projects funded by DRINC are run independently in universities and research institutes and produce publicly-available information that is of use to the food industry.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills said: "DRINC is a great chance for us to ensure the maximum opportunity for fundamental bioscience research to lead to real consumer benefits, including improvements to public health.

"The value of a public-private partnership like DRINC is that we ensure that industry are aware of and have access to the results from basic science so that they can use this knowledge to develop real products and processes."

DRINC aims to fund excellent projects that make the most of opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary working and are of relevance to industry. The projects draw on expertise from the biosciences and medicine and disciplines such as engineering in order to understand new ways of providing people with a healthy and enjoyable diet.

Dr Mark Fowler from Nestlé, on behalf of the DRINC Steering Group, said: "Once again, projects funded through DRINC represent world-class pre-competitive research that has the potential to underpin innovation in the food industry. It's particularly good to see some of the best diet and health researchers in the UK alongside scientists and engineers from other disciplines, making the most of interdisciplinary collaborations and drawing value from new and combined approaches to research. I'm really looking forward to seeing the results from these projects."

Projects include:

  • Can diet slow the progression of osteoarthritis? As our population is ageing, strategies to maintain good health in old age are increasingly important. Researchers from the University of East Anglia will be investigating possible links between diet and osteoarthritis including the potential for compounds in broccoli and garlic to slow or prevent cartilage destruction.
  • Healthier white bread. Future food security relies on quality of nutrition as well as quantity of food. Researchers from the University of Birmingham and the Institute of Food Research with colleagues at Rothamsted Research and Campden BRI, will be studying the natural variation of fibre in wheat with a view to making high-fibre white bread.
  • New feeds for cows to reduce saturated fats in dairy products. In the UK we get one third of our saturated fat intake from dairy products so it is very desirable to reduce saturated fat in milk. A team at the University of Reading will carry out research that could cut 90,000 tonnes of saturated fat from the UK food chain per year. They plan to investigate dietary strategies for dairy cows to reduce saturated fats in milk whilst minimising any change in trans fats. Such dietary changes may also reduce the amount of the greenhouse gas methane produced by cows.

For a full list of funded projects see notes to editors.

ENDS

Notes to editors

  • Can bioactive compounds from the diet prevent the onset or slow the progression of osteoarthritis?
    Prof Ian Clark, University of East Anglia
    There is some initial evidence that high intake of certain foodstuffs may be linked a slower progression of osteoarthritis, but there is work to be done to confirm any such link. Ongoing work by Professor Clark's group shows that compounds from broccoli and garlic are effective in slowing or preventing breakdown of cartilage samples in the laboratory. The next stage is to discover whether these compounds can make it into human joints and/or cartilage tissue in appropriate amounts to slow cartilage destruction as people age. The group will also aim to identify and test compounds from other foods associated with protection from osteoarthritis.
  • Mining diversity in cereal (wheat) fibre to improve the nutritional quality of bread
    Prof Peter Fryer, University of Birmingham
    Prof Claire Mills, Institute of Food Research
    Prof Peter Shewry, Rothamsted Research
    Future food security relies on quality of nutrition as well as quantity of food. A substantial proportion of wheat grown in the UK is used for human consumption, making it an important source of calories, protein, minerals, vitamins and dietary fibre in the human diet. Professor Fryer, Professor Mills and colleagues at Campden BRI and Professor Peter Shewry at Rothamsted Research will be studying the natural variation of the major soluble fibre (arabinoxylans, AX) in wheat. They will use wheat lines with variable content of AX to make flour and then bread. A model stomach at IFR and a model gut at University of Birmingham will be brought together to study how AX in this bread behaves during a simulated digestion process. We will discover how AX may modify digestion of starch and hence the glycaemic index of bread. This work will help us to understand ways of using new grains, processes and products to make high-fibre white bread that has more of the health benefits of wholemeal bread whilst taking into account a strong preference for white bread in the UK. The model digestion system will help the food industry to explore new healthier food formulations in a more cost-effective manner.
  • Reducing saturated fatty acids in the food chain through alteration of milk fat composition
    Prof Ian Givens, University of Reading
    In the UK milk and dairy products are the biggest single source of dietary saturated fats. Despite the fact there is now good evidence that milk in the diet is beneficial to long term health for most people, there are likely to be further benefits from replacing saturated fats in milk with monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fats. Professor Givens' research group plan to investigate dietary strategies for dairy cows to replace saturated fats in milk whilst minimising any change in trans fats. A major advantage of this approach is that it will remove saturated fats from the food chain rather than simply displacing them to re-enter at some later point. In addition the dietary strategies proposed may also reduce the amount of the greenhouse gas methane produced by cows'.
  • Dietary polyphenols as modulators of redox signalling pathways to reduce chronic inflammation in the elderly
    Prof Malcolm Jackson, University of Liverpool
    During ageing there are changes inside our cells that can make us more susceptible to chronic illnesses that involve inflammation such as arthritis, heart disease and cancer. There is some evidence that fruit and vegetables that contain compounds called polyphenols may help to prevent many age-related disorders but it is not clear how or why this might be the case. Professor Jackson's group will study the ability of polyphenols to prevent the changes in cells that can lead to inflammation. In particular they will examine specific areas inside cells to find out whether polyphenols are able to prevent oxidation that would otherwise encourage inflammation. They will also establish which polyphenols are likely to be most beneficial. As well as these laboratory experiments they will study older volunteers to see if any of the potentially beneficial polyphenols can reduce the signs of inflammation when consumed in the diet. The aim is to identify specific components of our diets that can help to keep us healthy in old age and to make evidence-based recommendations to the public for the consumption of specific foods.
  • Establishing the cardiovascular bioactivity of food-based phytochemicals
    Dr Colin Kay, University of East Anglia
    Dr Nigel Botting, University of St Andrews
    Food such as citrus fruits, berries, onions, tea, red wine and chocolate contain flavonoids which may provide health benefits such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. This project aims to assess the ability of flavonoids to offer protection when consumed as part of a normal diet. This research will tell whether and how complex mixtures of different flavonoids from a variety of food sources might help us to maintain good cardiovascular health throughout our lifetimes. Dr Kay and his colleagues will do experiments on cells in the laboratory to screen different flavonoids individually and in combination and at a level equivalent to normal dietary intake. It is hoped that evidence provided from this study could be used to inform dietary interventions and optimal dietary intake levels, safety and efficacy, marketing strategies and help regulatory agencies develop more targeted dietary guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention.
  • Ergocalciferol (D2) vs. Cholecalciferol (D3) Food Fortification: Comparative Efficiency in Raising 25OHD Status & Mechanisms of Action (D2-D3 Study)
    Dr Susan Lanham-New, University of Surrey
    We urgently need to improve the vitamin D intake of the UK population. One way of achieving this is through the fortification of food products. We currently have very little information on whether vitamin D2 (sourced from plants) and vitamin D3 (sourced from animals) are equally effective in raising vitamin D status and what are the optimum food products/drinks for vitamin D fortification. We also know that there are some differences between how vitamin D is acquired and used that depend on the level of certain skin pigments and so the needs of different ethnic groups vary. The study teams at Surrey, Manchester, University College London and Campden BRI will look at how vitamin D works in the context of the whole human body so as to enable identification of key genetic and ethnic differences in response to increased vitamin D intake by consumption of fortified food products in Caucasian and South Asian populations.
  • Conditioning the gut with functional foods
    Prof Fiona Powrie, University of Oxford
    Dr Mark Travis, University of Manchester
    Food passes through the intestine which is lined with trillions of bacteria which are important in maintaining normal health. These resident bacteria as well as food substances can potentially trigger a harmful response if our immune system is not tightly controlled. Our studies will identify immune and bacterial substances which may control activation of the immune system in the gut. These factors in turn, may become attractive targets for functional foods and supplements aimed at conditioning our intestine to promote gut health.
  • Unravelling the mechanisms of vascular protection by omega-3 PUFAs to optimise and support their use as bioactives by the food industry
    Prof Caroline Wheeler-Jones, Royal Veterinary College
    We know that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3s) found in fish oil and some plant oils reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease but why these fats are beneficial is not well understood. Diets high in unhealthy fats are believed to contribute to cardiovascular disease by causing blood vessels to clog with fat, causing them to function poorly. After eating, fat in the food is transported by components of the blood known as chylomicron remnants (CMRs). We will be examining precisely how CMRs containing omega-3s affect the cells lining blood vessels and how their actions compare to CMRs containing other 'unhealthy' fats. We expect these studies will give us a clearer understanding of how omega-3s actually work, which will help the food industry to produce and market foods with genuine and proven health benefits.
  • Enhancing the consumer perception of reduced fat foods through interfacial design and rheological behaviour
    Dr Peter Wilde, Institute of Food Research
    Dr Paul Clegg, University of Edinburgh
    Many foods such as dairy products, sauces, mayonnaise, ice cream etc, contain small fat small droplets (an emulsion) which gives a creamy taste and texture. Low fat versions can sometimes be unpalatable because they do not recreate the desired taste and texture. Dr Wilde's group, together with the University of Edinburgh and Leatherhead Food Research will be looking at how the coating of each fat droplet can be made strong and sticky so that they taste creamier, and so improve the taste of low fat foods.

About DRINC

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 seven independent academic scientists and seven 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 13 company members: Campden BRI, Coca-Cola, Danisco, Danone, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft, Leatherhead Food Research, Marks & Spencer plc, The National Association of British and Irish Millers, Nestlé, PepsiCo UK and Ireland, The Sugar Bureau, and Unilever.

About EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests more than £850M a year in research and postgraduate training to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. www.epsrc.ac.uk

About MRC

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.