The principal commitment and focus of the Nutritional Biochemistry Research Group has been on basic research. However, we have also conducted applied research, sometimes in collaboration with industrial partners. The PI, Professor O’Brien has had considerable success in attracting research funding from national and EU funding agencies (total to-date accruing specifically to the group: €6M). She has published work in key international journals and presented research findings at international meetings. She has engaged in collaborative research with numerous colleagues within and outside UCC. To date, students and postdoctoral researchers who have worked in her group have had immediate success in obtaining suitable employment primarily with multinational enterprises in the food/pharmaceutical areas.
The focus of activities in the Nutritional Biochemistry Research Group:
Bioactivity of dietary components
The group has developed a number of cell culture models to study the effects and mechanisms of action of a range of dietary components. We have focused on the cytoprotective, antioxidant, antigenotoxic and immunomodulatory effects of these components in cell systems. The range of dietary components we have studied to-date include carotenoids, tocopherols, flavonoids and other phytochemicals. Our basic research in this area is important in helping to understand the fundamental mechanisms of action of these phytochemicals and also has considerable practical commercial relevance in underpinning development of the emerging markets for Functional Foods. In addition to individual chemical compounds, we have also assessed the bioactivity of extracts from seaweed, herbs, potato peel extracts and brewers' spent grain. Currently, we are investigating the bioactivity of protein hydrolysates extracted from a variety of sources including milk, meat, fish, barley, potatoes and flaxseed.
Bioavailability of dietary components
We have successfully established an in vitro bioavailability model employing a simulated digestion procedure and differentiated Caco-2 cells grown on transwell plates. We have published many studies demonstrating the validity and usefulness of the model. The main chemicals whose bioavailability we have tested to-date are carotenoids and tocopherols.
Biological effects of sterols and oxysterols
Our work has focused on the cytotoxic, genotoxic and cell signalling effects of cholesterol and phytosterol oxidation products in cellular model systems. The potential protective effect of phytochemicals against the toxic action of oxysterols has also been studied. Additionally, we are systematically analysing the phytosterol and oxyphytosterol contents of plant foodstuffs.
Human Nutrition in the Developing World
In addition to longstanding teaching activities in this area, we are also involved in relevant research activities. Currently, these include the AGRIDIET project which is funded by Irish Aid. This project involves investigation of agriculture-nutrition linkages in different agro-ecological zones of Ethiopia and Tanzania. Our group is contributing the nutrition expertise for the project. Extensive fieldwork has been completed and data analysis is ongoing. Recently, our group has also been successful in obtaining significant funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) for a 4 year project whose objective is the development of a novel Fortified Blended Food suitable for use by the World Food Programme and other humanitarian organisations.
Current Research Team:
5 PhD students
1 MSc student
1 Research Support Officer