Dairy Co-Products Role in Gut-Brain Function

Researchers: Dr. Ameer Taha, Dr. Daniela Barile, UC Davis, Department of Food Science and Technology
Timeline: January 2024 – December 2025

Background: Approximately 50% of individuals above the age of 65 suffer from cognitive impairment which currently has no treatments. Impaired cognition could progress into dementia and significantly lower quality of life for millions of Americans. This research will establish the role of currently existing abundant dairy co-products in reversing or slowing cognitive impairment induced by a high-fat Western-like diet. Recently, the Taha and Barile labs discovered that supplementing whey protein phospho-lipid concentrate (WPPC) to rats for 4 months, prevented cognitive impairment induced by a high-fat Western diet by promoting remyelination through the supply of sialic acid (a key component of myelin). WPPC, a co-product of whey protein isolation, remains under-utilized despite being enriched with multiple bioactives including sialic acid-containing glycoproteins and glycolipids. Recent findings from this research group revealed that WPPC also contains extracellular vesicles (EVs) which are a diverse group of tiny membrane-bound vesicles that are released by the mammary cells into milk. EVs have gained significant attention in the field of therapeutics as they can concentrate and encapsulate milkbased bioactives that can impact brain health.

Industry Benefit: Enabling the discovery of strategies that reverse or halt the progression of cognitive impairment will be dually beneficial to the California dairy industry and the millions of aging Americans who suffer from cognitive decline. The proposed work will provide new knowledge on sustainable ways to utilize dairy co-products, currently valued at less than $1 per pound, towards brain health. This will position EV-enriched milk fractions to become a novel ingredient for the elderly over the next 3 to 5 years, a population that remains supportive of dairy consumption.