July 4, 2004, Updated September 13, 2012

Nutritionally enhanced ice cream may not be far off with the technology developed by NutraLease.

Hot dogs and hamburgers that heal? Ice cream that can prevent disease? It sounds like a pipe dream, but Israeli researchers have developed a new technology that can deliver vitamins and medications through the food we eat.

The work was carried out by Prof. Nissim Garti and Dr. Abraham Aserin at the Hebrew University’s Casali Institute of Applied Chemistry. Garti and Aserin, in cooperation with the Yissum Research and Development Company, an Australian investor and Ashkelon Technology Initiative, have established a start-up called NutraLease which designs vehicles to transmit the nutrients.

Their clients include several major food and pharmaceutical companies which have asked for vehicles for nutraceuticals such as lycopene (which can lower the risk of contracting prostrate or breast cancer and also can slow down certain signs of aging), phytosterol (which helps prevent the accumulation of cholesterol), and lutein (which retards cataract growth).

A deal has also been closed with the Israeli meat products manufacturer Tirat Zvi for manufacturing healthy hot dogs, and negotiations are in process with an Israeli ice cream manufacturer. Already, a nutritionally-enhanced canola oil product is on the shelves of Israeli supermarkets and other food and beverage products are in the process of integrating NutraLease’s NSSL technology into them.

Until now, adding such nutritional or medicinal components to food has been problematic because most bioactive phytochemicals (chemical components derived from plants) are not soluble in water, and therefore their absorption via the digestive system is very limited. The beneficial components simply pass through our bodies.

Two HU PhD students working under Garti and Aserin in the development of the product have just won Hebrew University’s Kaye Innovation award for contributing to the NutraLease’s development of ‘nanovehicles’ that can successfully transport the desired components through the digestive system.

The two students, Aviram Spernath and Idit Yuli-Amar were presented their awards last month during the 67th meeting of the university’s Board of Governors. The Kaye Innovation Awards have been given annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the university and society.

Spernath and Yuli-Amar developed nanodroplets and tiny liquid crystals that are effective in binding with, dissolving, stabilizing and retaining food or medicinal chemicals, thereby creating microemulsions. The vehicles are built using complex formulations involving emulsifiers, water, oil and alcohol.

The “nanovehicles” improve the delivery of nutraceuticals and cosmetoceuticals into the body’s blood stream and tissues. Nutraceuticals and cosmetoceuticals are natural materials, mainly derived from plants, which have health benefits. Many of them are not soluble in water and/or oils and therefore are difficult for the body to absorb.

Nutraceuticals today are often taken in capsule form or as food additives in the hope that the nutraceutical will be a beneficial diet additive. However, the effect of this is generally marginal, even though there may be some advantage over normal consumption through a balanced diet. However, most of these nutraceuticals are not absorbed but are simply flushed through the body’s digestive system.

The nanovehicles which Garti and Aserin and their students have developed are microemulsions made out of water, oil, an emulsifier and sometimes alcohol as a cosolvent. The microemulsions, or nanoemulsions as Garti prefers to call them, are more stable than regular emulsions and can absorb a significantly higher amount of the active beneficial material from plant sources than a regular emulsion.

Nanodroplets of the microemulsion bind with nanoparticles of the nutraceutical or cosmetoceutical. The nanodroplets carry the nutraceutical nanoparticals through membranes and release them upon reaching their destination. The microemulsions are highly dilutable and also can be turned into powders. As a result, they can be used as liquid or powder food additives or taken on their own. The method has significant health implications for both better nutrition and medical treatment.

Spernath, 35, who lives in Kfar Saba, and Yuli-Amar, 28, of Jerusalem stress that their specially formulated vehicles can successfully entrap and transport nutrients dissolved in nanodroplets or liquid-crystals that are 95 percent water. The current direction of their research is aimed at developing vehicles that are exclusively water-based, without the need for an alcohol component.

In a related development, Enzymotec, an Israeli biotechnological company, has formulated a new MultOil cooking oil, capable of breaking up blood fats, such as cholesterol, the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv reported.

Enriched with phytosterol-esters and DAG, MultOil will especially benefit diabetes and heart disease patients, required to limit their consumption of fats. Several leading international food companies have already expressed interest in the product and entered into negotiations with Enzymotec, a Migdal Ha’emek company established in 1998 by Dr. Sobhi Basheer.

MultOil is based on natural oils enriched with phytosterols and DAG, both thought to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The product combines 25 per cent phytosterol-ester (PS-E) and 15 per cent diglycerides (DAG). The US Food and Drug Administration has recognized these oils as GRAS and products containing PS-E are allowed to be labeled in the US as reducing the risk for coronary heart disease.

MultOil is produced using a patented process called AMIET, developed by Enzymotec to modify enzymes. The company says the technology enables regular enzymes to perform in a non-aqueous media, with high activity and recycleability without losing their specificity or selectivity. The ingredient can therefore be used in liquid oils, spreads and sauces.

“MultOil enables oil producers to introduce trans fat free oil to the functional market, based on advance technology,” said Dr Ariel Katz, Enzymotec CEO. “Furthermore, it offers new opportunities to oil producers to strengthen their market position.”

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Jason Harris

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