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News / July 24, 2008

Milk research funding to boost caries fight

by Guy Hiscott

A unique partnership between four of Ireland’s leading dairy companies to research how the natural properties of milk can be extracted and used to deliver health benefits for consumers has received €20 million in funding from Enterprise Ireland.

The National Functional Foods Research Centre will look at enhancing infant formula, dairy spreads, yoghurts and cheese to help maintain health and alleviate conditions associated with serious diseases.

Speaking to the Irish Times, Gerald Fitzgerald, professor of food microbiology at University College Cork and interim chief executive of the new centre, said: ‘A functional food is a food that contains some functional ingredient that serves a purpose beyond supplying nutrients. The term has come to imply that it is related to some aspect of health, and functional foods are really targeted at keeping healthy people healthy, and reducing the risk of developing illness.’

Many of the functional ingredients will be derived from the proteins in milk, particularly by chopping large proteins into smaller sub-units called peptides, some of which have anti-bacterial properties.

Prof. Fitzgerald went on to say: ‘We are looking at preventing infection – it can be anything from serious infections like C difficile and Staph aureus, then you have [other] infections such as dental caries right through to tummy upsets, which are not devastating but they have an impact on quality of life.’

Announcing the funding for the establishment of the National Functional Foods Research Centre, Mary Coughlan TD, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, said: ‘The State’s investment of €20 million in the new National Functional Foods Research Centre will lead to the delivery of new high-value, innovative food products for the health conscious consumer. The dairy sector has a tremendous opportunity to capitalise on this research, entering new markets and increasing exports and employment in the sector.’

It is anticipated that the National Functional Foods Research Centre will grow to include more companies and will therefore extend its lifespan beyond the five years outlined this month.