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BBSRC funds £4M of diet and health research

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By Laurence Gibbons+

25-Jun-2014
Last updated on 25-Jun-2014 at 12:54 GMT

 Six research projects into improving the health benefits of food and drink products have received funding
Six research projects into improving the health benefits of food and drink products have received funding

Six projects investigating diet and health have received £4M of research funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) in a bid to help food and drink manufacturers improve the health benefits of their products.

The studies will investigate how diet affects health, including osteoarthritis, brain function, cholesterol, calorie intake and type 2 diabetes.

Funding is provided by the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC), a BBSRC led collaboration with 15 food and drink businesses.

Scientists proposed research that would improve understanding of food choice and eating behaviours; contribute to the design of foods that maintain and improve health; and explore how food processing can be optimised to deliver healthier foods.  

‘Vitally important’

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC executive director, innovation and skills, said: “The relationship between our diets and health is vitally important to every individual, to society as a whole and to the UK economy.

“This research from DRINC has exciting potential to meet the needs of UK consumers and deliver real health, economic and social benefits. It is an excellent example of research councils and industry working together to address critical challenges.”

Research led by Dr Gary Frost from Imperial College London, working with colleagues at the Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre, King’s College London and University of Glasgow will receive £967,853. It will study the best way to process and prepare peas to maximise resistant starch content in a variety of foods.

Genetic insights will inform crop breeders which genes in peas are associated with the types of starch that provide the best protection against type 2 diabetes.

Research, led by Professor Jeremy Spencer at the University of Reading, will investigate how flavonoids affect cognitive function by examining their precise pathways of action in the body and receive £717,106 of funding.

Research by King’s College London into the effects food processing has on soluble dietary fibre will receive £648,083. The study, led by Dr Peter Ellis, will also devise ways to incorporate soluble dietary fibre into manufactured foods while retaining its ability to reduce blood cholesterol and lipid concentrations.

The other three research projects receiving funding are Rothamsted Research into speciation and bioavailability of iron in plant foods (£576,910); a University of Bristol and Loughborough University study into calories intake (£651,725) and University of East Anglia’s investigation of how compounds found in foods act to protect cartilage in joints, and testing mixtures to identify the best combination to protect cartilage and slow or prevent osteoarthritis (£491,766).

‘World-class studies’

Professor Judy Buttriss, director general of the British Nutrition Foundation and chair of the DRINC steering group, said: “I am delighted that six world-class studies into aspects of diet, health and disease are to be supported in the new round of DRINC funding.

“All six have the potential to produce important results that could deliver real benefit to the health and wellbeing of consumers in the UK, and around the world.”

BBSRC and MRC will together fund 90% of the six projects, with the remaining 10% coming from industry partners. The 15 industry partners are Campden BRI, Coca-Cola, Danone, DuPont, Leatherhead Food Research, Marks & Spencer, Mondeléz, National Association of British and Irish Millers, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Sainsbury’s, Seafish, Sugar Nutrition UK, Unilever and Waitrose.

These six are the first projects funded in the second phase of DRINC. The first phase of the club allocated £15M for high quality diet and health research between 2007-2010.

An independent evaluation in 2011 recommended DRINC’s continuation to contribute to the UK’s strength in diet and health research.

In total the second phase of DRINC will fund £10M of research in three calls. The second call opened on May 12 2014 with at least £3M available.

Meanwhile, the Food Manufacture Group will host a free one-hour webinar – Obesity and health: the big fat, sugar and salt debate – to be broadcast at 11am on Thursday July 3.

For more information and to register for your free place, click here.

Research funding in numbers

  • £967,853: Imperial College London research into which genes are associated with type 2 diabetes.
  • £717,106: University of Reading assessment of the acute cognitive effects of flavonol intervention in humans.
  • £648,083: King’s College London study into the impact of food processing in the blood cholesterol-lowering effect of cereal beta-glucan.
  • £576,910: Rothamsted Research analysis of the different forms of iron found in food plants and how they are absorbed by the body.
  • £651,725: University of Bristol and Loughborough University test of the effectiveness of consuming 150 calories fewer at lunch combined with methods for increasing meal satisfaction and a route for the food industry to help implement a public health approach to weight management.
  • £491,766: University of East Anglia investigation of how compounds in foods act to protect cartilage in joints and slow or prevent osteoarthritis.

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