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    Innovative Method Unveiled for Extracting Protein Fractions with Therapeutic Potential from Dairy Products

    A collaborative effort between Polish and Chinese researchers has yielded a novel approach to obtaining targeted protein fractions from milk, whey, and buttermilk, serving as rich sources of peptides. These peptides hold promise for the treatment and prevention of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

    The University of Warmia and Mazury (UWM) has announced its intention to seek patent protection from the Polish Patent Office for the method of obtaining these specific protein fractions.

    Under the three-year DairyFunInn project, UWM scientists, in collaboration with Chinese counterparts, worked on developing innovative dairy products offering a wider range of high-quality components. “These functional milk components include lactose derivatives, milk proteins, and proteins from the surface of fat globules,” shared Dr. Eng. Justyna Żulewska, UWM professor and project coordinator on the Polish side.

    Utilizing membrane filtration techniques, UWM researchers isolated various protein fractions from milk, whey, and buttermilk. Through hydrolysis, a process that breaks down protein chain structures, they obtained smaller protein units known as peptides. “Every type of milk can yield bioactive peptides, provided you know how to do it,” explained Prof. Dr. Eng. Małgorzata Darewicz, Dean of the Faculty of Food Sciences, Head of the Department of Food Biochemistry at UWM, and project coordinator for the quality assessment of innovative dairy products. “These peptides can be sourced from dairy products themselves. There’s no need to add them – however, knowledge of the technological process is essential. This is guarded know-how, and sensory aspects of such products remain unmodified,” emphasized the scientist.

    “Milk proteins are a good source of peptides with activities such as antihypertensive (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors), antibacterial, opioid (sleep-improving), and antioxidant effects, which can be used in the treatment and prevention of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s,” noted Dr. Eng. Justyna Żulewska, who coordinated the “Isolation/Fractionation, Preservation, and Evaluation of the Bioactive Properties of Proteins Isolated from Milk” task within the project.

    UWM scientists also examined what occurs in the human digestive tract after consuming products containing specific protein fractions. “Following the consumption of dairy products containing casein and smaller amounts of whey protein, free amino acids, as well as biologically active peptides, are generated in the human digestive tract through digestion processes,” explained Żulewska. “While free amino acids primarily serve as building blocks for the body, bioactive peptides exhibit various beneficial effects. The health-promoting effects depend on the type of digested protein and the technological processes used in its production.”

    The DairyFunInn project resulted in eleven scientific publications, including several in collaboration with Chinese scientists. On the Polish side, the outcome encompassed several engineering and master’s theses, as well as one doctoral thesis. The project involved 37 individuals from UWM.

    The Functional Dairy Research and Development Center was established as part of the project to handle the implementation of results into production. It will also focus on other collaborative Polish-Chinese research outcomes related to bioactive components isolated from milk. “The project’s results have been verified on an industrial scale, offering substantial possibilities for implementing developed technologies in industrial practice,” added Dr. Eng. Żulewska.

    The project shed light on consumer expectations regarding health-promoting dairy products and their specific health properties. UWM scientists conducted surveys among various age groups. “The most frequently identified health benefits of consuming dairy products included promoting healthy bones, followed by immune system support, proper digestion, and reduced cardiovascular risk,” disclosed Dr. Eng. Katarzyna Przybyłowicz, UWM professor and coordinator of the “Relationship between Consumption and Consumer Expectations Regarding Health-Promoting Dairy Products” task.

    Consumers anticipated the most health benefits from dairy milk, natural cottage cheeses, and fermented milk beverages. Higher consumption of fermented dairy products correlated with better dietary quality, self-awareness among consumers, and greater interest in the health-promoting effects of food on well-being.

    Dr. Przybyłowicz emphasized the necessity of promoting health-conscious attitudes and beliefs encouraging the consumption of these products based on dietary recommendations. “This could contribute to reducing the incidence of chronic non-communicable diseases across various age groups, enhancing quality of life,” she noted.

    The Polish-Chinese DairyFunInn project, operating under the theme “Innovative Technologies for Producing Functional Dairy Components and Developing New Products,” was conducted from 2019 to July 2023 and received funding of 2 million PLN from the National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR). Chinese partners in the project included Beijing Technology and Business University (BTBU), the Institute of Food Science and Technology at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Tianjin University of Science and Technology (TUST), and Shijiazhuang Junlebao Dairy. UWM’s contribution involved five departments, including Dairy Science and Quality Management, Food Biochemistry, Human Nutrition, Food Engineering, Process Equipment, and Food Biotechnology, as well as Commodity Science and Food Research. Initially led by Prof. Bogusław Staniewski, the project was later overseen by Dr. Eng. Justyna Żulewska, UWM professor.

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