The study, part of the EARNEST project, a EU-funded Integrated Project in the 6th Framework Programme, is in-line with the company's continued drive to back up its prebiotic ingredients with solid science. Belgium's Orafti has been influential in building the science behind inulin and oligofructose, backing research into potential benefits for a variety of health conditions ranging from bones to colorectal cancer or satiety and weight management. Douwina Bosscher, Orafti's nutrition research manager said: "This large collaborative scientific investigation brings together a hugely respected and influential multi-disciplinary team of scientists from academia and industry across Europe. "The study will investigate early nutrition programming using an approach, which integrates knowledge from randomised controlled trials, prospective observational studies, as well as animal, cellular and molecular techniques. "It is hoped that the conclusion of the study in 2010 will enable a better understanding of the extent to which nutritional influences in early life can modulate a person's development, metabolism and health in adulthood," she added. A major focus of EARly Nutrition programming-long term follow up of Efficacy and Safety Trials (EARNEST) will be to perform controlled intervention studies into the early nutritional programming of diseases and investigate how dietary factors can impact on their development. High-risk infants included in the study will receive infant formulae either supplemented with BeneoSynergy1 (0,8 g/100 ml) or without any supplementation (control group) from birth and throughout the first year of life. The researchers will follow the infants during their second year and monitor overall health and well-being, as well as the composition of their intestinal microbial flora. "Thus the study will provide new data on the immuno-modulating effects of Beneo Synergy1 and its potential effect on reducing the risk for allergy during infancy," said Orafti. The abitlity of inulin and oligofructose to impact immune health has been reported previously. Indeed, at last year's Orafti Research Conference at Harvard Medical School researchers from around the world told attendees that these non-digestible carbohydrates impact metabolic functions in the intestine, which in turn impact on local immune cells in this area, and particularly on the gut-associated lymphoid-tissue, which plays a role in the immune system. Most of the data in this area comes from rats and mice, but Dr. Bernhard Watzl from the German Federal Research Centre for Nutrition and Food presented unpublished data from a pig study, an animal with an intestinal tract similar to humans. The pigs were supplemented short-term (3 weeks) and long-term (3 months) with inulin and oligofructose (Synergy1) and markers of immune function measured in a variety of gut immune tissues. Watzl told the 160 attendees at the conference that short-term supplementation resulted in increased phagocytic activity of white blood cells and increased numbers of so-called natural killer T-cells (NKT-cells) in the spleen. "In the long-term experiment, the prebiotic enhanced NK cell activity in Peyer's patches [part of the lymphatic system] and splenocytes [a white blood cell found in the spleen], overall suggesting a boost of innate immunity not only systematically but also locally in the gut," he said. Additional research has shown that prebiotics may also improve the response to a vaccination, including a study with young children and the measles vaccination.