Could stem cell help Nestle develop tastier, healthier food for people battling Alzheimer’s?

Using stem cells to make better food

We all know that what we eat can affect our health – and if we don’t then we really haven’t been paying attention. A poor diet can increase your risk of a host of pretty nasty diseases. Now a company we fund is putting its stem cell research expertise to use in trying to identify the precise link between diet and disease.

The company is Cellular Dynamics International (CDI). They were recently awarded a $16 million contract by us to generate high quality iPS cell lines as part of our stem cell bank initiative. Now CDI has entered into an agreement with the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS) to use CDI’s stem cells to study the effects of nutrients found in foods, and use that knowledge to develop what the Wall Street Journal described as “nutritionally enhanced drinks and other products.”

In a news release CDI CEO Bob Palay announced the agreement saying:

“The ongoing work and this long-term supply agreement with NIHS demonstrate the utility and broad applicability of our iCell and MyCell Products. Our customers already benefit from a reliable supply of human iPSCs and human differentiated cells for their biomedical research and drug discovery. This supply agreement with NIHS adds nutritional research as yet another field that will benefit from CDI’s products and expertise.”

The NIHS is part of the Swiss multinational food and beverage giant Nestlé, which is the largest food company in the world. The Institute was created in 2011 as part of Nestle’s efforts to meet what it saw as a growing demand for “medical foods” from an aging population.

Few additional details of the agreement were given but it’s possible that Nestle wants to use the cells to screen different nutritional elements to see if they have any impact on certain medical conditions. This is similar to the way these cells are used to screen drugs to see if they can have an impact, beneficial or otherwise, on specific medical conditions.

Last February Nestle announced it was buying Pamlab, a company that makes foods for patients suffering from diabetic peripheral neuropathy, dementia and depression.

On it’s website the NIHS describes part of its mission as:

“A molecular understanding of health and disease processes will allow us to devise personalised nutritional strategies as a means to help people to stay healthy rather than to manage disease.”

It’s an approach that makes sense in lots of ways. Just as we are using stem cells to better understand what goes wrong in our bodies, why not use them to figure out ways to put those right. And it’s much easier to apply the knowledge garnered from those cells if it comes in the form of a tasty snack.

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