NEWTON, Mass., Nov 15, 2004 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Scientists are developing nutraceutical "food additives" that may dramatically lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack, the nation's leading cause of death.
Microfluidics, the operating subsidiary of MFIC Corporation (MFIC), announced today that University of Massachusetts Lowell scientists are using Microfluidizer(R) materials processing equipment to develop water soluble plant sterols for use as cholesterol-blocking food additives. If the research proves successful, food and pharmaceutical companies may be able to use Microfluidizer processors to develop foods, beverages, and dietary supplements that inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines, significantly reducing blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, the nation's leading cause of death.
The research is being conducted at UMass Lowell's Center for Health and Disease Research by Professor Robert Nicolosi, director of the center. Nicolosi is using the Microfluidizer processor to develop a variety of other products, including foods and beverages fortified with cancer-fighting antioxidants and orange juice fortified with vitamin E that will not precipitate from the juice.
"Many nutrients are lipid or 'fat' soluble," said Nicolosi. "We are using the high-pressure Microfluidizer processor to take lipid soluble nutrients and make them water soluble in a nano-emulsion." If Nicolosi is successful, his work could lead to a new generation of more effective nutritional foods and supplements. Foods that are nutritionally enhanced with vitamins, herbs and nutritional supplements are known as nutraceuticals, a $46 billion market in 2002 that will grow to more than $74 billion by 2007, according to Business Communications Company, an industry and market research firm in Norwalk, Conn.
Plant sterols and animal sterols share a similar chemical structure and mutually limit each other's solubility and uptake in the small intestine. But where animal sterols or cholesterol remains in the body for a long time once it is absorbed, plant sterols are poorly absorbed and are quickly excreted from the body. Long-term clinical trials established 50 years ago that plant sterols lower blood cholesterol by inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol from the small intestine and that they have no adverse effect even in large doses. The problem is that Americans do not eat nearly enough plant sterols to have a beneficial impact on blood cholesterol. Nicolosi hopes to change that.
"If we can develop the product, the impact on human health could be significant," said Nicolosi. "By ingesting one or two grams of plant sterol each day, you could lower your blood cholesterol by 15 percent. Studies show that for each one percent lowering of blood cholesterol you lower your risk of heart disease by two percent." That means that a 15 percent lowering of blood cholesterol can be associated with a 30 percent reduction in the risk of heart disease.
"Professor Nicolosi is conducting research on a variety of nutraceutical formulations that could greatly benefit human health, while also expanding the product pipelines and enhancing the profitability of pharmaceutical and food processing companies," said Bob Bruno, president of Microfluidics. "During our discussions with Professor Nicolosi, it became apparent that the Microfluidizer processor was the only way to reformulate these compounds in a way that they would be ingestible, effective and economically viable. Given the enormous potential of his research, we decided to loan him a fluid processor to help get him get through preclinical trials by this spring. At that point he will need a new system, and a pharmaceutical or food industry partner to shoulder the cost of further development," said Bruno.
Lipid soluble nutrients are difficult to ingest and absorb, making them less effective than their water soluble cousins. In order to make the nutrients water-soluble, Nicolosi must dramatically reduce their particle size from several thousand nanometers to less than 100, otherwise the nutrients will separate from the emulsion, much like oil and water. An added benefit is that smaller particles have greater surface area by volume, making them more bioavailable, and thus more effective.
In order to create the nano-emulsion, Nicolosi premixes a solution of water, plant sterols and an emulsifier like lecithin, which he then pours into the Microfluidizer processor. The processor compresses the solution to 30,000 or more pounds per square inch, drives it through ever-smaller microchannels, then in a reaction chamber splits the solution into two streams, which collide with each other at extremely high velocities. The powerful collision results in a nano-emulsion with a very long shelf life.
MFIC Corporation, through its Microfluidics subsidiary, provides patented and proprietary high performance Microfluidizer(R) materials processing equipment to the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetics/personal care and food industries. MFIC applies its 20 years of high pressure processing experience to produce the most uniform and smallest liquid and suspended solid structures available, and has provided manufacturing systems for nanoparticle products for more than 15 years. The Company is a leader in advanced materials processing equipment for laboratory, pilot scale and manufacturing applications, offering innovative technology and comprehensive solutions for nanoparticles and other materials processing and production. More than 3,000 systems are in use and afford significant competitive and economic advantages to MFIC equipment customers.