Nestle teams up with biotech to study how food affects human cells

The Nestle logo is pictured on a truck outside the company's Switzerland headquarters. REUTERS

Nestle is set to partner with biotechnology firm Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) to study the relation between diet and disease, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The maker of Kit Kat chocolate bars and Maggi soups will take brain and liver cells from CDI to study the effect of nutrients found in foods, WSJ cited Emmanuel Baetge, director of the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences, saying in an interview.

Madison, Wisc.-based CDI develops and manufactures human cells in industrial quantities to precise specifications for research customers.

CDI said in a statement Wednesday it signed a long-term agreement to supply stem cells to the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Wall Street Journal added that Nestle scientists have already started studies of CDI nerve cells to see how the fatty acids found in avocados and olive oil affect them.

Nestle is increasingly linking up food and science with its health science unit, set up in 2011 to pursue a growing demand for "medical foods" from an aging population.

Last February, Nestle said it would buy U.S. company Pamlab, which makes such foods for patients with conditions including diabetic peripheral neuropathy, dementia, depression and high-risk pregnancy.

That deal followed the purchase in 2012 of a stake in U.S. firm Accera, which makes a medical food brand for Alzheimer's patients.

Experts expressed skepticism to the Journal that changing ingredients in foods may affect chronic diseases.

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, said adding nutrients to foods has never worked very well except for treating diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies.

Diseases "have multiple causes, and food is very complicated and diet is very complicated," said Nestle, who has no relationship to the food company.

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