PKU sufferers lack an enzyme that works to break down the amino acid phenylalanine which is found in food containing protein. Those with the condition therefore have to follow a special diet to minimise phenylalanine build-up in the blood and brain in order to avoid neurological problems and brain damage.
To minimise phenylalanine intake and ensure sufficient protein consumption, Arla said suffers have to avoid dairy foods and consume free amino acids, normally in the form of a drink that has an unpleasant bitter taste.
Free from phenylalanine
So as to sidestep this dietary requirement, the Danish ingredients company has developed a milk protein free from phenylalanine that can replace normal protein in dairy foods and protein bars. Adding this protein means that people diagnosed with PKU can avoid undesirable supplements and eat dairy foods without worrying about the consequences.
The milk protein developed by Arla for this purpose is called CaseinoGlycoMacroPeptide (CGMP). It is part of the whey from cheese production and is similar to all other proteins except that it does not contain phenylalanine.
Until now, the CGMP protein has generally been an undesirable component in the whey but now Arla considers that it has significant market potential.
The company expects to increase production significantly over the next couple of years to meet demand from PKU sufferers. Arla cited dairy foods, protein bars, patés and clear drinks as possible applications it sees for the new ingredient.
Currently about one in 15,000 people are born with PKU although incidence rates vary significantly between countries. Ireland and Turkey, for example, have relatively high incidence of PKU while in Finland the condition is much rarer.