The North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) is adding to its reputation not only as a research hub but as a center for commercialization and product development.
Leading off the afternoon panel of the UNC Charlotte Life Sciences Conference, Commercialization: The Application of Research, former Vice President of Business Development for Sensory Spectrum, located adjacent to the NCRC in downtown Kannapolis, described how the company’s expertise in sensory methodology supports the work of the campus’ corporate and university partners.
“At Sensory Spectrum we are all about understanding products and understanding consumers- doing objective research on products and subjective research with consumers on products and linking them together and telling a whole story,” Heylmun said. “We’re all about creating sensory methodology.”
The North Carolina Strawberry Project is one study that Sensory Spectrum participated in with the North Carolina State University Plants for Human Health Institute. Sensory Spectrum gathered chefs from Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, retail produce buyers and consumers to test appearance, flavor and texture attributes of strawberries over a two-year period. The data gathered from the panels provided the NCSU strawberry breeder Jeremy Pattison, PhD, with specific feedback to tailor a new breed of North Carolina strawberry.
General Mills is on the NCRC applying “marker trait association analysis” as part of advancing their breeding programs in oats and sweet corn. “We partner with other people that have breeding programs to work with them to translate the marker trait associations or the discoveries we make to actual fields,” said Eric Jackson, PhD, General Mills NCRC site lead. “We’ve done a good job on the campus, so far, looking at this idea of connected innovation, partnering with people in and around the science we work with to advance the science.”
One project that demonstrates this collaborative approach is the oat genome project. Through a partnership with the UNC Charlotte Bioinformatics Research Services and an international consortium a new technique to look at genomic specific expression of genes was developed.
Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory takes collaboration to a new level working with numerous companies on and off campus. Lab Director David Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, described their focus as “the effects of whole foods like bananas, watermelon or chia seeds and novel nutritional countermeasures like flavonoids, quercetin, omega 3 fatty acids or beta glucan. The main goal is to see the effects on exercise and obesity-induced immune alterations, inflammation and oxidative stress.”
One of ASU’s main collaborators is the Dole Foods Nutrition Research Laboratory, also at the NCRC. ASU and Dole have conducted studies that have tested the effectiveness of a multi-fruit and vegetable juice blend on oxidative stress and inflammation in elite swimmers. In another study they determined that bananas are just as effective during exercise as sports drinks like Gatorade. Dole was able to use that study to launch a marketing campaign branding bananas as “nature’s original energy bar.”
In an upcoming study, Dole and ASU will test the effectiveness of a Dole-brand, vitamin D enriched Portobello mushroom powder on a NASCAR pit crew to determine if increasing vitamin D levels can better protect their muscles from damage. ASU is also working with ASEA, a dietary supplement beverage, to establish the health benefits of the drink. They’ve worked with a German beer company as well as Coca-Cola, Quercetin Pharma and numerous other companies to help demonstrate scientifically the health benefits of their products.
“Almost all my funding comes from companies,” Nieman said. “It’s a great way to do really good research but also do something practical for these companies.”