Cheese-making waste can be a game-changer for people with diabetes

A New Zealand-based company researching alternative uses for a cheese-making byproduct aims to develop it into a cure for people with type 2 diabetes.

WheyTech Bionics NZ is partnering with the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) on a two-year project which aims to develop technology to process whey permeate as a sweetener with anti-diabetic properties.

Whey permeate is a by-product of the cheese making process.

“An existing German patent shows that high levels of glucose in whey can create a sugar with anti-diabetic properties,” says Steve Penno, director of investment programs at MPI.

WheyTech Bionics has access to this patent.

“Part of the project’s research and development process will be to explore the manufacture and efficacy of an equivalent product made from New Zealand whey,” says Penno.

Through the Sustainable Food and Fiber Futures fund, MPI is committing more than $111,000 to the $277,903 project.

WheyTech Bionics NZ CEO Ben Van Rooy is excited about the potential of whey. “We need to stop neglecting whey because it’s a wonderful product.

“We already have strong support from many quarters, especially beverage companies keen to try alternative sugars. In addition, the chocolate and bakery sectors want to replace what we call normal sugars with products derived from whey.

“Currently, there are no New Zealand-made sweeteners on store shelves. Imported sweeteners often contain added artificial ingredients that have no health benefits. This gap in the market presents a real opportunity.

Dairy farmers in Canterbury, Hamilton and Tauranga are supplying raw products for the trials, which are being conducted by Plant & Food Research at Palmerston North and FoodSouth at the University of Canterbury.

“We have already succeeded in making a liquid syrup, but we are still working on the flavor profile,” explains Van Rooy. “We also conduct research to ensure that our product is stable and consistent.

“Our next challenge will be to turn the product into a stable powder format that can be used in nutraceuticals. It will be technically tricky due to its grip but if we manage it it will be a world first.

Van Rooy says the most valuable part of the project is the nutraceutical component of the product. “We hope to eventually create a pharmaceutical that doctors will prescribe for type 2 diabetes. Of course, this will require extensive testing and clinical trials, so it will be a few years from now – but this is my ultimate dream.

Steve Penno says the ability to put common waste to good use is also a compelling reason to support this project. “One of the strategic objectives of the Fit for a Better World government and industry roadmap is the sustainable and profitable growth of value-added products from existing raw materials.

“If this project is successful, it will make a positive difference to our dairy industry, our environment and potentially people with type 2 diabetes.”

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