Bio firm's 'delivery capsules' ferry supplements to right place

Mon, Nov 19, 2012, 00:00

It’s all very well adding a functional ingredient to a food product, but what if it doesn’t get to where it needs to go in the body?

If “bioactive” ingredients aimed at improving flavour or health perish on the shelf before they are eaten, they aren’t much use. And what if they need to get to the intestine to have an effect but they can’t withstand the harsh environment of the stomach as they pass through?

Dr Sinéad Doherty has one way to get around that. She is using milk proteins and other biomaterials to create capsules that can protect and ferry bioactive ingredients safely through to the intestine.

“It’s a platform technology and it’s essentially a delivery system for the targeted delivery of sensitive and bioactive ingredients,” she says.

Last week saw the official launch of her company, AnaBio Technologies Ltd, which is based at Teagasc in Moorepark. She plans to start large-scale commercial production early next year, and she is already working with companies in South America, Europe, Asia and Ireland, including Future Nutrition in Enniscorthy.

The encapsulation technology has its origins in Doherty’s PhD, which she carried out at Teagasc. She was looking to create a product using whey protein – a component of milk – and she started to make gel particles. “These gels had a lot of protective properties and they were nutritious,” says Doherty. “So we started becoming a little bit more sophisticated, and we started making capsules.”

Tests proved that if probiotic bacteria were put into the capsules, they could survive well in foods and, importantly, they were delivered to the intestine in a bioavailable form in animal studies, says Doherty.

“Each capsule is a little micro-environment and the bioactive [ingredient] can stay happily in there until it gets to the intestine. And because of the way we make the protein capsule, it is cheap and nutritious in itself, and it is stable for a very long time: it has a shelf life of nearly 24 months.”

The encapsulation approach is also practical, she says. “The whole technology is completely mild: there are no high temperatures or harsh processing steps or organic acids.”

The technology is now patented, and Doherty has been working with a Swiss company to develop equipment that can produce the capsules on a large scale. “We have designed a commercial machine and it’s a GMP-grade facility here in Teagasc, Moorepark, so we have the sterile conditions that many companies need to make products,” she says.

“We are using materials coming from seaweed, from orange peel, and proteins from milk, peas and rice.”

Doherty says AnaBio will be in a position to start large-scale production early next year.

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