UAB is participating in a project to design functional foods against Alzheimer's disease

May 18, 2006

UAB researchers will participate in an ambitious R+D+I project to design functional foods for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular diseases. The Spanish Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce has allocated a budget of €21 million to the four-year project. Led by the company La Morella Nuts S.A., seven further companies, six departments from four universities (the UAB, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, the University of Lleida and Rovira i Virgili University) and a technology centre (Institute of Food Research and Technology (IRTA/Monells)) are also involved.

The project is oriented towards "establishing methodologies to design, assess and validate functional foods for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer's" More than 50 doctors and technologists will participate.

The objective of the project is to produce foods that reduce the risk of suffering cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer's, as well as to improve the quality of life both of sufferers and of their families. This initiative, therefore, includes basic and applied research. It will generate new productive methodologies and will enable new products to be created that will increase food safety.

Functional foods are those that contain biologically active components providing health benefits and reducing the risk of suffering illnesses. These include, for example, foods containing certain minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and fibre. They also include foods containing live microorganism cultures that are beneficial to one's health. Functional foods can be natural products or products that have been modified to add or remove a certain component. They may be for the whole population or for a specific group suffering an illness or susceptible to contract a particular illness.

The role of universities in this project will be to develop research projects related to health. This will be directed and coordinated by Dr Mercè Unzeta, professor of the UAB's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and member of the UAB's Institute of Neuroscience and Vice-Rector for External Relations and Cooperation.

This is one of 16 major projects undertaken as part of the CÉNIT programme run by the Centre for Technological and Industrial Development (a body belonging to the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce), which aims to promote cooperation in R+D+I in the public and private sector and has a budget of €200 million.

CÉNIT is part of the Ingenio 2010 initiative promoted by the Spanish Government and the EU. Ingenio 2010 aims to bring Spanish investment in R+D up to 2% of GDP (Spain's current investment is just 1.07% of GDP, about half the EU average). Of the 16 projects in the CÉNIT programme, this is the only one in food and agricultural research.

A regulated field

There is already a wide variety of functional foods available to consumers, and it has become clear that the functional foods that may improve people's health and welfare must be identified. This means we must go further in establishing a regulatory framework to protect consumers from false or confusing claims on the properties of foods.

The European Commission Concerted Action on Functional Food Science in Europe (FUFOSE) aims to develop and establish a science-based approach to the evidence needed to support the development of food products that may have health benefits.

In Spain, a bill to improve the protection of consumers and users is currently going through parliament. Once passed, the new law will strengthen powers to prosecute those who produce false or misleading advertising. This will directly affect advertising for functional food, which will be controlled more tightly.

Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

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