Faculty-led startup takes aim at improving gut health

Food Science

Alyssa Amen, November 20, 2019

Faculty-led startup takes aim at improving gut health

Nebraska faculty have founded a university spin-off company, Synbiotic Health, to develop a combination of beneficial gut bacteria and the fuel that feeds them.

A synbiotic, the company’s namesake, refers to the mixture of beneficial bacteria and fiber-like fuel that may be more effective at delivering health benefits when paired together. Working with NUtech Ventures, the university’s technology commercialization affiliate, the startup company has licensed its first synbiotic strains and plans to begin human clinical trials next year.

The company’s founding members include Nebraska’s Bob Hutkins, Andy Benson and Tom Burkey, as well as the University of Alberta’s Jens Walters and CEO Tim Brummels. The team formed Synbiotic Health with the goal of commercializing synbiotic combinations as ingredients for food and beverage companies.

The Nebraska researchers have long been studying how fiber-like prebiotics can support the growth of probiotics, beneficial bacteria that reside in the gastrointestinal tract. Their research also focuses on pairing the right prebiotic with the right probiotic, which may help good bacteria stick around long enough to have health benefits.

“We’re excited to provide a scientific foundation that supports the commercialization of safe, effective synbiotics,” Brummels said. “The gut microbiome, and its impact on human health, is a key product-development platform for a number of leading nutritional companies.”

According to food scientist Andy Benson, the partnership with Synbiotic Health is also an important achievement for the Nebraska Food for Health Center. The center focuses on developing foods with proven health benefits, particularly those that affect the human gut microbiome.

“This partnership demonstrates the center’s commitment to translating and commercializing research-based products,” said Benson, presidential chair and center director. “These synbiotics are a rapidly emerging class of ‘next generation’ probiotics that can ultimately improve human and animal health.”

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