Artificial intelligence is allowing us to sort through huge numbers of molecules or microorganisms in the search of novel ingredients, but once you have candidates, you still need to test them in living creatures.
Layered onto that is the push from regulators in some parts of the world, and consumers, to find alternatives to mammalian testing. Texas-based NemaLife has developed a screening platform using microscopic worms on a chip to deliver rapid, affordable, and actionable whole-life data.
Speaking with NutraIngredients at the recent SupplySide West in Las Vegas, Dhaval Patel, PhD, NemaLife’s Director of Research & Innovation, explained that, while the C. elegans worms are one of the earliest lifeforms on the planet, there’s a lot of biology that’s conserved from the worm all the way up to humans.
“So that makes them a very attractive model for studying ingredients and understanding if they have the effects that they will ultimately have in humans,” said Dr Patel. “So even though they’re very tiny, they have this amazing ability to inform us on really useful human translational biology.
“The premise of our chip is basically trying to minimize the amount of sample that you need to give an organism during testing. A lot of companies here [at SupplySide West] are doing a lot of early-stage R&D and they don’t have a lot of material at that stage, but they need to know what the functional benefit of that nutraceutical or probiotic is. Because if you know what that functional benefit is, you can then justify putting in the money to scale up manufacture and then doing that more intensive testing that comes with getting that product ready for market.”
NemaLife’s platform is able to take that ultra-low volumes of that material and look at several different read outs, including health and lifespan, he said.
“Other things we can look at are weight management compounds: Are the worms gaining obesity on a high sugar diet? Can that material make them skinnier? We can look at things for cognitive health, muscle health, reproductive health. The worm is very powerful for getting a lot of insight into a lot of things that we care about.”
Preclinical probiotic testing
The company, which is only three years old, recently joined the International Probiotics Association and is working with the organization to “create a new industry standard in preclinical probiotic testing”.
“The microbiome space has taken a giant leap forward in the last 20 years,” explained Dr Patel. “We’ve realized how much the microbiome impacts human health, but one of the things we’re really not able to do right now is to understand which specific bacteria are having the most beneficial effect because the microbiome in my gut or your gut probably numbers 7-10,000 individual species and actually knowing which ones are truly having a beneficial effect is really challenging.
“So, what we’re trying to do is use this platform to basically help people characterize the actual impact of each one of those species and that allows companies to work out which species are going to be most impactful for their product.”
Watch the video above for more information.