Abrupt changes to our food supply since the advent of modern industrial farming some 50-odd years ago have occurred faster than evolution can keep up, is a statement that has been made by many.
And the consequences of this change may be the increase in incidence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. But how would we ever be able to prove that a disease that develops over decades may be related to everyday nutrient intakes?
In an exclusive interview with NutraIngredients-USA.com, Guy Miller, MD, PhD, Executive Chairman of Ampere Life Sciences, explains how his company has developed technology that provides “fact-based evidence science” to answer that very question, and answer it in weeks not years.
Hundreds of vitamins
“If we accept that we’ve dramatically changed the diet and that we cannot adapt biologically, then the top level solution is to ask what did we remove from the diet, and replace it,” explains Dr Miller.
If we have indeed removed key nutrients from the diet, then why don’t we see the effects? Remove vitamin C and people quickly develop scurvy. Vitamin D deficiency produces rickets. Wouldn’t a lack of these other nutrients produce such effects?
They do, says Miller, but the timescale is different. “Take diabetes,” he says, “we see it, but it occurs on a slow time frame and therefore we discount it.”
“Today, we define vitamin deficiencies on a time scale of months and perhaps a year. But what if a nutritional deficiency and their manifestations occurred over multiple years or generations?”
“Here’s the concept: Diabetes is analogous to scurvy. It is caused by a nutritional deficiency that may occur over decades not months.”
Dr Miller acknowledges that others have presented similar theories. Readers of NutraIngredients-USA will be familiar with the triage theory of Dr Bruce Ames , for example.
“Yes, other folks have said the same,” Miller says, “but we have taken this one step further down to fact-based evidence science, from empiric wisdom and broadened this to include an overarching theory.
“But it is very fair to say Dr Ames is Version 1.0 and also very smart.”
In this case, the number of vital nutrients – or vitamins – would skyrocket. “We think there are more than 200 “vitamins” but less than one thousand,” said Dr Miller. “And they’re all from plants.”
Hypothesizing that long-term nutrient insufficiencies and deficiencies are behind the increase in all of our chronic diseases is one thing, testing the hypothesis is quite another: A randomized control trial (RCT) to test this would need almost limitless resources and a timeframe of decades, and would therefore be virtually impossible.
Enter Ampere’s Digital Biology technology platform: “Think about planes,” says Miller. “If you want to build a new plane and test how aerodynamic it is, do you build a full plane or do you build a scale model and put in a wind tunnel?”
“What we have done is to model biological time. We’ve created an accelerated model of human aging, or time.
“We can model the rate of biology, and that allows us to measure and change biological time”, and this brings biological change back into an experimentally accessible time frame.
‘Biological time’ is relative, explains Dr Miller, and is distinguished from ‘physical time’. “Physical time being the time of Big Bang, black holes, and so on, whereas biological time is relative to organismal life span.”
Ampere scientists have already found that producing deficiency of certain nutrients can speed up or accelerate biological time, he claims.
“To validate our approach, we focused on one nutrient and one instance of accelerated human aging. The data derived from this first “experiment” is consistent with changing the rate of aging. We believe we have changed biological time” he said.
Data from a clinical trial that would normally take decades to run could therefore be obtained, “in less than 90 days”.
Much about Ampere’s technology and the data it is producing are being kept tightly under wraps for now. Dr Miller and his Ampere colleagues have just started submitting papers to peer-review journals, a move which will present their research to the wider scientific establishment.
The Big Boys are aware of the technology and its potential. Ampere signed a partnership agreement with Unilever in September 2010, which gives Unilever access to the platform and exclusive rights for the development of innovative consumer products.
Unilever’s press release said it all : “The 5-year initiative will bring together a worldwide team of Unilever and Ampere scientists working on the core biology of aging.”
Neither Ampere nor Unilever would disclose the terms of the transaction, but Miller admits that, if Ampere delivers, it would be the biggest deal ever in the consumer products space.