Madison Adamthwaite of Harvard University and Nam Than of The University of Texas at Austin have been awarded $25,000 each as part of Danone North America’s Annual Gut Microbiome, Yogurt and Probiotic Fellowship Program.
Than's research is said to have the potential to be ground-breaking in that it may help us understand how next-generation probiotics (NGPs) play a role in maintaining gut homeostasis and prevent disease. The project will leverage so-called ‘gut-on-a-chip’ – a microengineered system designed to emulate the structure, function and physiology of the human gut – to study the effects of NGPs on intestinal epithelial health. According to Miguel Freitas, PhD, vice-president of health and scientific affairs at Danone North America, this technique could eventually allow Danone to select specific NGPs that may offer additional health benefits to consumers, such as maintaining gut homeostasis or preventing disease formation.
Meanwhile, Adamthwaite's project will identify the molecular mechanisms by which microbiome-derived metabolites alter health, with a particular focus on gallic acid - a metabolite shown to protect from cardiovascular events. One of the project’s goals will be to develop a probiotic that’s capable of gallic acid overproduction and use this to enrich yogurt.
“Danone’s mission to bring health through food to as many people as possible and a large part of that is ensuring our products are comprised of ingredients that offer proven benefits, such as inclusion of certain probiotics, so it is very important to us to stay at the forefront of research,” Freitas told DairyReporter.
“The gut microbiota represents a crucial interface between the world in which we live, the food we eat and our overall health. The more we can learn about the human microbiome, the more we can leverage it to help people better manage everything from digestive issues to mood and to improving different aspects of health or reducing the risk of developing certain diseases such as obesity and diabetes.”
He added that a particular focus for the company would be to investigate how nutrition can play a part in preventing disruption of the microbiota, instead of simply coming up with solutions to tackle the signs of existing dysbiosis. “While there is an increased effort towards designing microbiota-targeting therapies aiming to restore the microbiota of diseased patients, there is a lack of approaches designed to prevent the disruption of the symbiosis between humans and its microbial symbionts in healthy individuals,” Freitas told us. “This is where nutrition can have an important role, which also translates in opportunities for food companies.”
The Danone Fellowship Grant was established in 2010 to provide funding for novel studies of yogurt, probiotics, and the gut microbiome. Winners are chosen based on the quality of their proposals, faculty recommendations, and each of their studies' value to human health and wellness by a panel of judges with expertise in the field. This year’s winners stood out from amongst ‘many high-caliber proposals’, we were told, and the review process was ‘challenging’ due to the number of quality applications. “Ultimately, Nam and Madison’s proposals were chosen as they were thorough, well-executed and their research aims to prevent illness and improve health outcomes,” Freitas concluded.
Reacting to being selected to receive funding from Danone North America, Adamthwaite said: “It is an incredible opportunity to be a recipient of the 2022-2023 Danone Fellowship Grant. Receiving this fellowship provides support for my research endeavors that are particularly focused on studying the vast array of metabolites produced by the gut microbiome.”
Than added that the grant funding was both ‘an honorable accomplishment and an important milestone’. “I am looking forward to pushing the boundaries of knowledge in the field of probiotics through this grant,” said Than. “I am excited about completing this research proposal as it will provide actionable biomedical knowledge for NGP development that could make a meaningful impact on human health.”
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