Tapping into a growing trend looking at the potential of milk proteins - both caseins and whey proteins - for the prevention of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity - a cluster of disorders associated with metabolic syndrome. According to Dr. Curtis Rempel, research and development manager at the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals (RCFFN), the collaboration will evaluate the efficacy, structure, and function of bioactive proteins found in dairy products. The literature is littered with reports of dairy and dairy proteins benefiting cardiovascular disease, weight loss, and diabetics. For example, a study published in the July 2006 issue of the journal Diabetes Care (Vol. 29, pp. 1579-1584) reported that low-fat dairy was associated with reduced risk of diabetes amongst women. When the researchers from Harvard adjusted for vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, fat and fiber content of the diary products, the association between dairy intake and diabetes risk was still present, suggesting a potential role for other nutrients in the milk, possibly milk proteins. In addition, researchers from the University of Minnesota reported positive effects of hydrolyzed whey protein (Davisco Foods International) on people with low level hypertension (The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, Vol. 8, pp. 775-782). The new collaboration will involve researchers from the RCFFN, the University of South Australia's Nutritional Physiology Research Centre, the Centre for Agri-Health in Research & Medicine (CCARM) at St. Boniface Hospital, and the University of Manitoba Departments of Food Science and Human Nutritional Sciences. The Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals opened in May 2006 following C$31m in government and industry grants for building and equipment. The researchers will kick-off with a joint human clinical trial to determine whether increased consumption of dairy protein can improve body composition and counteract disease in at-risk individuals. According to Rempel, the collaborative research will focus on the bioactive from the isolation from dairy products to formulation in finished dairy products, all of which will have a focus on "environmentally friendly" technologies. Looking to the long term, bioactive components isolated and characterized from dairy will be evaluated in experimental studies at the CCARM and in further human trials in both Australia and Canada. The burden of metabolic syndrome Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a condition characterized by central obesity, hypertension, and disturbed glucose and insulin metabolism. The syndrome has been linked to increased risks of both type 2 diabetes and CVD. "These chronic diseases place a significant burden on the Canadian and Australian populations, as well as populations globally," said Rempel. Indeed, 15 percent of adult Europeans are estimated to be affected by MetS, while the US statistic is estimated to be a whopping 32 percent. Obesity is established to be the main risk factor for MetS. "We believe prevention and management using functional food products will decrease the economic burden and enhance quality of life," he added. Industrial trend A number of companies are already looking at milk proteins as potential solutions for the health problems which fall under the metabolic syndrome banner. DSM recently launched TensGuard that uses peptides from milk to help relax blood vessels in people with high blood pressure. The ingredient contains the lactotripeptide Isoleucine-Proline-Proline (IPP). While lactotripeptides are present in normal dairy products, they are inactive within the original milk protein. The firm also launched the first ingredient aimed at reducing post-meal spikes in diabetics in September. InsuVital is hydrolyzed casein consisting of bioactive peptides which increase the body's level of the hormone insulin, which in turn lowers blood glucose levels. Puleva Biotech is also looking at the potential of hydrolyzed caseins from goat's milk to prevent the development of high blood pressure, and have backed up their efficacy in animal and human studies.