Located in the Smartpark Research and Technology Park at the U of M’s Fort Garry campus, the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals (RCFFN) supports the province’s functional food industry by establishing linkages between academics, industry, and government.
Functional foods are modified foods claimed to improve well-being by providing benefits beyond the natural nutrients the food contains.
The RCFFN’s director, Peter Jones, said the majority of the centre’s initiatives are built through partnerships with a variety of local, national, and global agricultural projects and companies, with an underlying goal of creating an “economically viable” functional food industry by working towards improving the standards of human nutrition in the country.
A catalyst for the research and development of foods containing health benefits, Jones laid out how the centre can help provide a “big marketing push” for companies.
“We are dealing with a company that wants to test the cholesterol-lowering effectiveness of a beverage that has fermentable products in it,” he said.
“So, we will set up a trial with humans,” he continued. “The benefit of the company is that they will obtain, hopefully, a data set that shows that their product is effective in reducing bad cholesterol.”
“They can then go and put a label on the product that says: ‘reduces cholesterol’ or ‘lowers our risk of heart disease.’”
Jones highlighted one project currently underway, the Manitoba Personalized Lifestyle Research Program (TMPLR).
“The TMPLR program was designed to really look at a cross-sectional snapshot of Manitobans in terms of what do they eat, how much do they exercise, how fit are they, how well do they sleep, what does their probiotic micro-biome look like,” he said.
The TMPLR program, by evaluating this cross-section, can help determine an individual’s risk of developing high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
Through its collaboration with the U of M’s faculty of agriculture and food sciences and the Rady faculty of health sciences, the centre offers undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in the growing scope of nutraceutical research through what he dubbed the “triple-D approach” – discussion, discovery, and development.
With more than 20 studies usually taking place simultaneously, students not enrolled in a similar area of study can still play a part by signing up to participate in the many food trials carried out by the centre. The centre provides remuneration “to cover some of the costs incurred” for participating students.
“For [TMPLR], we are trying to recruit 800 students,” said Jones.
“We are at 650 right now,” he continued. “We are actually looking for help in terms of volunteers not only to participate in studies but we are also looking at some students to help us get on board the bus and head out to places like Dauphin, places like Brandon.”
Jones noted the centre’s research aims “to better the functional food industry, from both the scientific and economic perspective here in the province, across the prairie region, across Canada and even internationally.”