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Public sector and industry unite to attack obesity and heart disease

8 October 2009

The battle against obesity, heart disease and other diet related health problems received a £4 million boost today with the announcement of seven new research projects. The projects, taking place in universities and research institutes across the UK, are part of a partnership between 2 publicly-funded Research Councils and 15 companies. This means the research being funded is tackling big questions in diet and health in our society but in a way that the food industry will able to use quickly to help improve the nation's health through diet.

The partnership, the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC), has awarded the money to a range of projects. Research will look at such things as the role of probiotics and prebiotics in reducing obesity and improving immunity, why and how polyphenols found in fruit juice reduce the risk of heart disease and if this ability is reduced during food processing and the role of cognition in triggering physiological signals of fullness. A full list of the projects is below.

DRINC is led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), in collaboration with the Medical Research Council. It has 15 member companies which contribute to the research funding pot. The Club supports world class UK scientists to look at the relationship between food and health and what can be done to improve health through diet, including reducing the risks of obesity, heart disease and cancer. The new projects announced today are the second round to be funded since the launch of DRINC in 2007. A final round of projects will be funded next year.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director for Innovation and Skills, said: “With obesity rising and an increasingly aging population, the need to understand the connection between diet and health has never been so important. We have a world class diet and health research community in the UK. By working with major food companies and by combining public and private sector money we can ensure that those scientists are tackling real world problems. The Club only funds the very best science, and we are working together to deliver advice and products to consumers that will have real health benefits for them - and as quickly as possible."


Notes to editors

The 7 funded projects are:

  • ‘The role of plant cell walls and nutrient absorption’
    Dr Peter Ellis, King’s College London and Dr Martin Wickham, Institute of Food Research.
    Many people eat plants rich in starch, such as cereals and rice, and some that are rich in fat, such as nuts, but little is known about how such foods release starch and fat in the human gut and how in turn this influences digestion and absorption of nutrients into the body. Using a range of methods, including the use of human volunteers and computer controlled simulation, researchers will examine the role of plant cell walls, often referred to as dietary fibre, in controlling the release and digestion of nutrients with the aim of helping the food industry produce new food products or ingredients that have a controlled release of starch and fat in the gut.
  • 'Role of short chain fatty acids in body weight, appetite and insulin sensitivity'
    Professor Gary Frost, Imperial College London, Dr Douglas Morrison, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Dr Catriona Tedford, University of West Scotland.
    The decline in the consumption of non digestible carbohydrates (NDCs) such as plant polysaccharides and resistant starches may be linked to the rise in obesity. NDCs reduce appetite and improve body weight and insulin sensitivity. Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) produced by the fermentation of NDC in the colon may be responsible for these effects, but the high doses required of NDC to produce these effects are not easily incorporated into modern diets. Recently a receptor has been identified that binds SCFAs, in particular a SCFA called propionate. This receptor is found on cells in the large intestine where it stimulates the release of appetite regulating hormones. Researchers will look at the effects of propionate in obese volunteers to determine if amounts of SCFA, like those produced from our ancestral diets, improves appetite control, body weight and insulin sensitivity.
  • 'Influence of prebiotics on gut bacteria'
    Professor Glenn Gibson, University of Reading.
    Bacteria in the gut have a major role to play in human metabolism, due to the huge numbers present in the gut and their constant supply of nutrients. Little is known on how these bacteria influence metabolism. Using prebiotics, non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth and activity of specific bacteria in the digestive system, Professor Gibson will look at the impact in a human feeding study to see if certain prebiotics can play a modulatory role in gut microflora and obesity and how best to deliver prebiotics to ensure that functionality and palatability are maintained
  • 'Effects of fruit juice processing and metabolism on cardiovascular health'
    Dr Colin Kay and Prof Aedin Cassidy, University of East Anglia, Dr Paul Kroon, Institute of Food Research and Dr Nigel Botting, University of St Andrews.
    Consuming fruit and vegetables appears to be a protecting factor from heart disease because of the polyphenols they contain. Berries and berry derived juices, including wine, have a particularly high concentration of polyphenols called anthocyanins. Research shows that in their pure form anthocyanins are able to restore function of certain cells in blood vessels, however, what is not known is how anthocyanins are altered during food processing or once they enter our bodies. Researchers will look at just that to see if processing and digestion alter the disease fighting processes of anthocyanins and if so, whether their properties could differ from what is currently believed.
  • 'Impact of non-digestible carbohydrates on biomarkers of gut health'
    Professor John Mathers, Newcastle University, Dr Ian Johnson, Institute of Food Research.
    The large intestine is one of the most common sites for cancer development in humans and studies suggest a link between diet, obesity and colorectal cancer (CRC). Using already identified biomarkers of diet-related CRC risk, Professor Mathers and Professor Johnson will test how these biomarkers respond to dietary intervention, to determine how useful they will be as biomarkers of gut health. Their study will include the measurement of methylation status in genes known to be involved in the early stages of the development of cancer, and which may be modifiable by changing diet.
  • 'Effects of pre and probiotics on immune response in ageing'
    Dr Parveen Yaqoob, University of Reading and Professor Richard Aspinall, Cranfield University.
    People aged over 65 suffer from more frequent and severe infections than younger people, as their immune response declines – known as immunosenescence. Researchers will look at the impact of pre and probiotic bacteria on immune function in young and old subjects by giving a mix of pre and probiotics, or a placebo for four weeks, during which time a flu vaccination will be given. Their body’s immune response to the vaccine will then be measured.
  • 'Increasing feelings of fullness by changing expectations, sensory quality and nutrient content'
    Professor Martin Yeomans, University of Sussex.
    Feeling full after a meal is traditionally viewed as the outcome of physiological processes, where ingested food triggers signals which lead to feelings of fullness which in turn help reduce the likelihood of overeating. However, while nutrients do generate satiety signals, these signals alone fail to explain why some foods and drinks are more filling than others. Professor Yeomans will be exploring the theory that individual expectations about a food or drink modify the way physiological satiety cues are interpreted and so alter how full we feel after eating or drinking.


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 15 company members: Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd, Campden BRI, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Danisco, Danone, GlaxoSmithKline, Leatherhead Food Research, Marks & Spencer plc, The National Association of British and Irish Millers, Nestlé, PepsiCo UK and Ireland, The Sugar Bureau, Unilever and United Biscuits.


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 £450 million 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. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. 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.


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