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Diabetes nutraceutical wins 2015 Proof of Concept grant

Tuesday, 18 August 2015 1:24pm

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The winners of the 2015 Proof of Concept grant, Dr Phil Heyward (left) and Dr Alex Tups, both of the Department of Physiology. Photo: Graham Warman.

A team developing a nutraceutical that could help regulate blood glucose levels thereby support the treatment of type II diabetes has won the University’s 2015 Proof of Concept grant.

The $50,000 grant, offered by the University's commercialisation arm, Otago Innovation, is aimed at transforming novel research at Otago into a marketable idea, product or service.

Dr Phil Heyward and Dr Alex Tups of the Department of Physiology are working on the nutraceutical, which involves a plant product. They are collaborating with Associate Professor Nigel Perry of Plant and Food Research and Pat Silcock, the Manager of Food Science’s Product Development Research Centre, who each bring essential expertise to the project.

"There are currently 135 million people with diabetes worldwide and this is expected to rise to at least 300 million by 2025."

Drs Heyward and Tups say that after 10 years of working in the fields of obesity and diabetes, they are excited at the opportunity to bring their research to a practical outcome. It is hoped that the nutraceutical could help patients with diabetes or prediabetes to better manage their blood glucose levels and thereby better manage the disease.

“Obesity and diabetes, and their associated impact on quality of life are a common, serious and costly public health problem. There are currently 135 million people with diabetes worldwide and this is expected to rise to at least 300 million by 2025. Our hope is that this product, originating in New Zealand, will be a therapeutic breakthrough, which will become readily accessible around the world to those most in need,” Dr Tups says.

The team will use their Proof of Concept Grant to progress their product to commercialisation.

The Proof of Concept competition, created in 2007, aims to encourage researchers to think about possible commercial applications of their work, including what an end product or service would look like, and who would buy it.

This year the competition attracted a record number of entries – 26 compared to 18 last year.

Otago Innovation’s Commercialisation Manager Francesca Rollason says not only were the number of applicants up, the overall quality of the applications was extremely high, which made short-listing down to the top 15 a tricky process spanning several days, and choosing a winner from the final four extremely difficult.

Dr Heyward says that he and Dr Tups were thrilled to win.

"This award confirms our vision for the outcome of our work, helping us to go from our basic science findings to a therapeutic product – the expertise provided by Otago Innovation will greatly accelerate its development and distribution."

“This award confirms our vision for the outcome of our work, helping us to go from our basic science findings to a therapeutic product – the expertise provided by Otago Innovation will greatly accelerate its development and distribution.”

This year there were three runners up. They were George Poulter and Associate Professor Richard Macknight of Biochemistry who have developed an elegant and novel method to enhance the precision of DNA profiling, opening up new applications for the existing technology; Associate Professor Phil Sheard and Navneet Lal of Physiology and Dr Jon Cornwall of the Faculty of Law who are developing an artificial tissue sample to provide consistent controls during routine immunohistochemistry; and Associate Professor Neil Waddell of Dentistry, Dr Carla Meledandri of Chemistry and Professor David Prior of Geology who are developing a strengthened ceramic with multiple applications including prosthetic teeth with a reduced risk of fracture.

Mrs Rollason says although there is only one winner, Otago Innovation hopes to work with a number of the applicants, including the three runners up, to help them progress their ideas towards a commercial outcome.

“This was the case for seven of the 18 projects we received last year,” she says.