A balanced diet containing appropriate protein and other nutrients can help reduce the risk of poor outcomes and progression of disease. Since soy is a source of antioxidants and high quality protein, supplementation could prove a useful tool in helping ward off immune deficits, the researchers believe, and in turn help prevent opportunistic and other infections in people with HIV and AIDS.
The project, which is a collaboration between soy industry initiative the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) and the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, is a double-blind, controlled study involving 400 people was announced on Friday December 1 - World AIDS Day.
The researchers will compare the effects of a micronutrient-fortified beverage containing soy protein isolate to a beverage with the same micronutrient and calorie load, but without the added protein. Evaluation of the effects and benefits is expected to be complete by fall 2007.
The collaborators say that, to date, no-one has taken a systematic look at protein supplementation in under-served populations.
"There are important benefits that may follow research of this nature based on the power of its findings," said principal investigator Roy Kennedy of the University of Stellenbosch.
Andrew Shea of The Solae Company, the largest industry representative within WISHH, told NutraIngredients-USA.com that much of the company's input has been technical in nature. Its R&D staff have helped with the formulation of the beverage, for instance, to ensure the consistency, flavor and nutritional profile will be well received by the participants.
Solae is supplying the soy protein for the beverages, although formulation will be done by a local South African company.
The company's nutritionalists worked closely with the team at the University of Stellenbosch on the clinical study design, to give it the best chance of publication in a peer reviewed journal.
It is hoped that the research will lead to a better understanding of the role of protein in the health of people living with AIDS, and possibly the development of commercial products specifically designed for food distribution programmes.
Shea stressed that the study's primary purpose is not market research, but he said: "Anytime you develop something like this there is a possibility of it being well-received. There could be a significant humanitarian opportunity for bringing a product to market in Africa."
Discussions over the project began in late 2004. The work of WISHH forms part of the two-year public-private partnership The Soy in Southern Africa Alliance, which is supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 39m people live with HIV/AIDS - 95 percent of whom are in developing nations.