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A centre of collaboration: University of Manitoba leads initiative for new products from plants.

Consumer awareness about the connection between diet and health has not only created a demand worldwide for natural-health products, but also for the scientific evidence to back up claims made by distributors. In Canada, one university is addressing these demands by creating a centre that will provide the research to substantiate benefits and safety, plus develop valuable crops with an economic advantage

Harold Bjarnason, dean faculty of agricultural and food sciences, and ASAE member Digvir S. Jayas, professor of biosystems engineering and associate vice-president of research at the University of Manitoba, are leading the initiative to establish a Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals. Funding for the project is being provided by the Province of Manitoba, Western Diversification, and the private sector. The centre will be housed in a new 55,000-square-foot (5,110-square-meter) building and will be equipped with the necessary research and pilot-plant equipment to facilitate the development, standardization and evaluation of new products from plants.

More than 50 percent of Canadians now consume natural-health products in the form of traditional herbal products, vitamins and mineral supplements. Consumers want access to and choice of a full range of these products, along with an assurance of safety and quality. Biotec Canada has estimated that the value of the functional foods and nutraceutical industry will reach $500 billion worldwide by 2010.

Changes occurring in the legislation and regulations in Canada and other countries are leading to a more holistic, health-promotion perspective concerning the use of crops. Many of the secondary metabolites of plants are now being recognized for their therapeutic and health-promoting properties. Under U.S. legislation, many of these plants or their derivatives can be marketed as food supplements, with relevant claims for health-promoting properties. It is anticipated that Canadian regulations will soon permit appropriate structure/function claims on foods or food extracts with proven physiological value.

Development of natural-health products will require interdisciplinary research involving experts from:

* food sciences and nutrition for identification of bioactives and for developing food and health products that incorporate these ingredients;

* food chemistry to evaluate potency and physical functionality in food formulations/applications;

* engineering to develop innovative processes for extraction of bioactives;

* plant science for enhancing the bioactives using plant breeding and genetic engineering;

* medicine and animal science to conduct basic research on defining the pathways of utilization of bioactives by the cell, animal and human systems, and assessment of health benefits; and

* pharmaceutical researchers with expertise in developing and evaluating new products to promote the health of consumers.

The goal of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals is to foster strong collaboration and synergy among researchers from several faculties (agricultural and food sciences, human ecology, medicine and pharmacy) and other research organizations in Winnipeg (Cereal Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada [AAFC]; Grain Research Laboratory; Institute for Biodiagnostics and the National Centre for Agri-Food Research in Medicine) and elsewhere (e.g., Food Development Centre, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba; AAFC Research Centre, Summerland, British Columbia; AAFC Research Centre, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; POS Pilot Plant, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan). Currently these organizations conduct research on various aspects related to the field of functional foods and nutraceuticals. Bringing them together to conduct interdisciplinary research will meet the needs of increasingly nutrition-literate consumers who have modified their purchasing and eating habits to reflect their awareness of the diet-disease connection.

To satisfy consumers' demands for scientific evidence concerning claims made by distributors of functional foods and nutraceuticals, the centre will conduct tissue culture, animal and human studies on bioavailability and metabolism. The centre will focus on the products of major crops -- such as oats, wheat, buckwheat, canola, flax and hemp seed oil -- grown in western Canada and particularly in Manitoba. Research will also be done on new and emerging crops. Capabilities include:

* identifying, enhancing and economically extracting bioactives;

* standardizing potency as well as efficacy of bioactives using tissue culture and small animal experiments;

* conducting experiments for assessing biosafety of functional foods and nutraceuticals; and

* analyzing a range of bioactive ingredients present in functional foods and nutraceuticals.

Collaborative studies will evaluate the enhanced bioactives using clinical trials at the university's affiliated research hospitals and institutes.

Because of the centre's interdisciplinary infrastructure, the facility and equipment for laboratories will enable researchers to develop new nutraceutical products for commercial production. Equipment will be available for the analysis of plant material, nutraceutical products and for characterizing active compounds and metabolites in body fluids and tissues. Also included are the required facilities for identifying and controlling the quality of the materials to be used in new nutraceutical products and for subsequent development and evaluation.

Determination of pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of a new nutraceutical or functional food is essential for the product to be accepted. Any health claims for these products must be supported by good scientific evidence and information on the disposition of the product in vivo. Pharmacokinetic properties will be evaluated and metabolic studies conducted in vivo and in vitro. Hepatology studies will be particularly useful in determining these parameters.

Most pharmaceutical products have their origins in plant life. In spite of this fact, the medical and agriculture research communities tend to operate at arm's length from each other, whether at a larger corporation or university. The explosive market potential in functional foods and nutraceuticals is providing an opportunity to bridge this gap. The University of Manitoba's interdisciplinary initiative is leading the way by integrating plant biotechnology, physiology, food processing, engineering, food nutrition and biochemistry with properly conducted clinical trials.

It is only through solid research substantiating the health-related benefits of nutraceuticals and functional foods that these products will gain widespread acceptance in the community. Products developed by the centre will have proven important health-related benefits, as well as the potential for becoming commercially valuable in regional and national markets.

RELATED ARTICLE: Defining moments

Consumers in India and China have consumed natural-health products for a long time as part of their diet (functional foods) to enhance their health and as medicines (nutraceuticals) to cure human diseases. According to an article by Claire Hasler in the 1998 issue of Food Technology, the term functional foods was first introduced in Japan in the mid-1980s and refers to processed foods containing ingredients that aid specific bodily functions in addition to being nutritious.

The Health Protection Branch of Health Canada proposed the following working definitions for functional foods and nutraceuticals:

* Functional food -- Similar in appearance to conventional foods, consumed as part of a usual diet and has demonstrated physiological benefits and/or reduces the risk of chronic disease beyond nutritional functions.

* Nutraceutical -- A product produced from foods but sold in pill, powder, potion or other medicinal form; not generally associated with food but demonstrated to have a physiological benefit or provide protection against chronic disease. Nutraceuticals can also be referred to as phytochemicals because these are biologically active (bioactive) plant chemicals.

ASAE member Digvir S. Jayas, Ph.D. and P.E., is professor and associate vice-president of research, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada R3T 2N2; 204-474-6860, fax 204-474-7568,
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Title Annotation:Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals
Author:Jayas, Digvir S.
Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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