IDP® for Digestive Health

Research Team

Dr Dulantha Ulluwishewa

Dulantha graduated from Massey University in 2013 with a PhD in Nutritional Science. His research has focused on understanding the molecular interactions that occur in the crosstalk between bacteria and their human host, including their impact on intestinal barrier function. Since joining AgResearch as a Postdoctoral Scientist in 2018, Dulantha has been investigating the effects of food on microbial interactions in the gut, and how this in turn contributes to digestive health.   

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-6280-9150

Public Summary

Principal Investigator: Dr Dulantha Ulluwishewa, AgResearch

Collaborating organisations: Quantec

Bovine milk and milk products have long been used for human nutrition because they are a rich source of lipids, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. However we now know that milk also contains a range of bioactive components that confer health-promoting benefits beyond simple nutrition, for example by modulating gastrointestinal function, immune function, or the activity of beneficial bacteria. Several of these bioactive milk components are now being exploited for use in pharmaceuticals and high-value food formulations. Immune Defense Proteins, or IDP®, is one such example: a unique blend of milk proteins with demonstrated health benefits, discovered by Kiwi scientists, and patented and commercialised by the Waikato-based Quantec Ltd.

“IDP® for Digestive Health” is an AgResearch-led research project funded by HVN and Quantec, designed to investigate the potential of developing a novel IDP®-based food product for improved digestive health. IDP® is currently being used as a core-ingredient in milk powder sachets and protein drinks that are sold in China and other parts of Asia. However a novel IDP®-based product with validated gut health claims would help boost the exports of this NZ product by allowing Quantec to enter China’s aging gut health market, currently worth over USD 3 billion per annum, and growing at double digit percentages year-on-year.

The project brings together AgResearch scientists with expertise in microbiology, immunology, cell biology, and molecular biology. The team will utilise in vitro cell based model systems to help understand what effects consuming IDP® can have on the intestinal barrier. They will also investigate whether IDP® in combination with probiotic bacteria can provide synergistic health benefits.

Functional gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome have been linked to an impaired intestinal barrier, so foods which help improve this barrier may help alleviate symptoms of gut discomfort. The HVN research priority area of Healthy Digestion has a focus on functional gut disorders, because these conditions are recognised by some regulators in the context of health claims to allow extrapolation of clinical studies to the general population. If the findings of the project can demonstrate digestive health benefits of IDP®, Quantec would proceed to develop prototype products, followed by human studies to establish proof-of-principle.

The project team at AgResearch will work closely with Quantec’s R&D team and their Innovation Director to ensure that the what the project delivers is aligned to their business growth strategies and consumer needs. The project could help Quantec achieve over NZD 5 million in export revenue within two years of product launch. Consumers in the Chinese gut health market are looking for products that support digestive and immune health while also being ‘natural’, and this project is a first-step towards the development natural milk-derived food product with validated health benefits.

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