Developing a new cholesterol-lowering food additive made from Nebraska-grown ingredients is the aim of a partnership between the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Beef Products Inc.
UNL and BPI, have signed an agreement that could lead to commercialization of a cholesterol-lowering compound made from beef tallow and soybeans. Tim Carr, a UNL nutrition scientist, invented the compound, which the university is patenting.
Under the agreement, the Dakota Dunes, S.D. based BPI will provide $500,000 to fund a human clinical study, to begin in May, of the tallow/soybean compound's cholesterol-lowering power. If the compound proves effective, BPI has the option to commercialize it for food applications under a university agreement.
"We are delighted to be partnering with BPI, which has significant operations in Nebraska, to further develop this innovative product of UNL research that uses two of Nebraska's top commodities - beef and soybeans - in new and exciting ways," says Prem Paul, UNL vice chancellor for research. "This invention has great potential to improve the health of millions of Americans."
The compound, which performed well in animal studies, is the outgrowth of Carr's basic research on the role of fats in heart disease. Soybeans and other plants contain sterols, which scientists have long known reduce cholesterol. Tallow is a rich source of stearic acid, a saturated fat. Carr's research revealed that stearic acid actually lowers cholesterol.
Exploring ways to put this "good guy" fat to work, Carr devised a way to blend specific amounts of stearic acid with plant sterols. "Combining the two actually boosts the cholesterol-lowering power," he says.
Carr's compound outperformed commercially available plant sterol-based food additives in three hamster studies. It lowered LDL, or bad, cholesterol as much as 79%, compared to about 10% reduction with commercial plant sterol additives. It also appeared to work at least as well as widely prescribed cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
The tallow/soybean-based compound, like plant sterol food additives, works by blocking cholesterol absorption in the small intestine. Typically, the body absorbs 50-60% of cholesterol in the intestinal tract. Excess cholesterol winds up in blood where it can contribute to heart disease. Carr's combination reduces absorption to around 5% or less.
"The beauty of this is that our compound passes right through the gastrointestinal tract and takes cholesterol with it," Carr says. "It's a dietary supplement, not a drug, and it's never absorbed into the body so there are no toxicity issues or side effects."
The human clinical trial to test the compound's effectiveness will begin in mid-May in cooperation with MDS Pharma Services of Lincoln. Initial results are expected by fall.
Results will allow the university to license the beef tallow-plant sterol compound as a food additive to BPI, which could quickly make it available to consumers.