Danone to research early infant development at Singapore hub

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

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Danone to research early infant development at Singapore hub
Danone Baby Nutrition’s new R&D centre in Singapore will facilitate cooperation with nutrition experts at universities and hospitals in the Asia Pacific region – and the exploration of factors that influence early nutrition and health in different communities across the region.

Danone’s global baby nutrition set up consists of a headquarters in Wageningen in The Netherlands and a satellite centre near Frankfurt in Germany, which is focused on exploring the composition and functionality of breast milk, which is the “inspiration”​ of all Danone’s baby products.

These two centres will both relocate in 2013 to a new R&D centre currently under construction in Utrecht.

The new Research Centre for Specialised Nutrition at Singapore’s Biopolis Research Park, into which Danone is channelling some S$70m, will employ 50 scientists within the next 4-5 years. Its activities will slot into this global network, and a major focus will be on factors like diet, culture, genetics and epigenetics affect health and later life.

“[The researchers] will really look at very early development and the surrounding environment of babies,”​ Mirjam Govers, PhD, director of communications R&D baby nutrition at Danone, told NutraIngredients.com

She explained that a large part of the research focus is fully integrated into the global platform.

She explained that there are high level scientist groups working in that area – such as teams at the National University of Singapore, KKH Hospital in Singapore, the University of Indonesia in Java, and the New Zealand-UK Epi Gen Consortium.

“It works better if you are close together and can sit around a table from time to time,”​ said Dr Govers.

Local needs

Research will also have a strong element of addressing local nutrition needs. “The specific needs of the area do differ to a certain extent to Europe. Research has been focused on Caucasian babies; we know there are similarities, but there may differences.”

Over the last two years the Danone-funded Nutriplanet study has investigated the nutrition and health status of children and women of child-bearing age in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

It identified an unmet need for data in a number of areas:

  • Quantitative nutrient intake and health status of babies and pregnant/breastfeeding women
  • Effects of social economic level
  • Relationship between maternal nutrition, birth outcomes and health consequences of babies
  • Official recommendations and actual weaning practices in Asia Pacific
  • Efficacy and safety of traditional food recommendations and prohibitions during pregnancy/breastfeeding
  • Composition of breast milk as a result of the dietary intake and nutritional status of mothers, and relevance on the physiological state of babies.

Informing products

Dr Govers said it is expected that the activities at the Biopolis centre will lead to the development of some specific products to meet local needs different social groups and cultures.

Indeed, some such local products are already on the market: for instance, a product called Gizikita, which is rich in vitamin A and Iron, was developed for Indonesia following a nutrition survey in the country.

Such products use local ingredients and local production facilities so prices can be kept as low as possible.

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