September 22/West Lafayette, Ind./Purdue University -- Fiber designed by a Purdue Univ. food scientist may improve digestive health and decrease the risk of colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and diverticulosis.

Bruce Hamaker, in the Department of Food Science, has developed a patent-pending designer fiber that is digested slower than other fiber, which could reduce digestive intolerance.

"The initial goal of the research was to address the problem of dietary fiber intolerance," he says. "Intolerance is mainly caused by rapid fermentation, which occurs when bacteria extract energy from fiber. Nearly everyone is affected by intolerance, depending on the amount of fiber they digest and how rapidly it ferments."

The Purdue-designed fiber travels through the large intestine, including the descending colon where colon cancer, diverticulitis and ulcerative colitis commonly occur. The fiber can be designed to target different locations. This enables the bacteria in the large intestine to receive important nutrients from the fiber, which promotes overall health.

"Butyrate, which is produced in high levels by the Purdue-designed fiber, is a beneficial by-product of the fermentation process," Hamaker says. "It has an anti-inflammatory effect and is an energy source for the cells that line the colon."

The Purdue-designed fiber has undergone two human clinical trials conducted at Chicago-based Rush Univ. Medical Center under the supervision of Ali Keshavarzian, the chairperson of Gastroenterology.

"The first trial determined the fiber is well tolerated by patients and produces no side effects," he says. "The second trial compared the fiber to psyllium, a dietary fiber that is used as an ingredient in high-fiber foods. This trial, which received support from the National Institutes of Health and the state of Indiana, showed the fiber was tolerated significantly better than psyllium, increased butyrate and promoted the growth of good bacteria."

Hamaker disclosed the development of the fiber to the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization, which filed the patent application. Technology managers from the office exclusively licensed the fiber to Nutrabiotix LLC, a Purdue Research Park-based company.

Mark Cisneros, president and CEO, says Nutrabiotix is developing a granular fiber product and a soluble fiber product.

"My colleagues and I believe Nutrabiotix fiber can be sold in the dietary supplements market, the functional foods market and the medical foods market," he says. "We have the ability to manufacture the fiber in commercial quantities, and now we are looking for a distributor."