Project ProtOn

Projecttitel: Project ProtOn
Projectnummer: LWV19131
Missie: Gewaardeerd, gezond en veilig voedsel
MMIP: D2: Gezonde voeding, een makkelijke keuze
Looptijd: 2019 – 2023
Projectleider: prof dr J.B. van Goudoever

Current protein intake levels of formula-fed infants exceed those of breastfed infants, resulting in higher body weight values, increased body fat at the end of infancy, and an increased risk for childhood overweight compared to breastfed infants. 
Main reason for the >30% higher protein content of cow’s milk-based infant formula (IF) compared to human milk, is to meet and safeguard the required minimal intake of essential amino acids (EAA) as set by the WHO and EU, based on data of average human milk content and composition. Using the limited protein sources currently allowed for IF production, further lowering of the IF protein content is hampered. 
But the high protein intake at this young age increases the risk for overweight and obesity later in life, particularly in those infants with an above-average birth weight. 

This project entails a new effort to come to lower protein levels in IF using a different approach, and aims to develop and test an IF concept (ProtOn) containing a hybrid protein mix of dairy and vegetal protein, and free amino acids, which meets our recently formulated modified EAA profile for IFs based on the actual EAA requirements as assessed in and for growing infants. 

This new EAA profile was previously shown to be safe and well-tolerated, and to support an adequate infant growth, despite a 20% reduction in total protein content and intake. 
As a result, the innovative IF concept ProtOn will comprise a deviating EAA profile and protein levels considerably below the current minimum levels allowed by the EU legislation. 

We anticipate that the ProtOn concept formula will support adequate growth and will attenuate, due to its reduced protein content, allowed by its modified EAA profile and its adapted protein quality, the risk for childhood overweight particularly in certain sub-groups of infants. 

The ProtOn project proposed consists of three phases:
1. Development of the concept IF product (ProtOn) in lab and pilot factory setting;
2. In vitro digestibility testing of the concept IF product vs. a conventional IF product; and
3. Upscaling of the production (to factory scale) in order to test the concept IF product in a randomized, controlled, multicentered clinical study to evaluate its safety and efficacy. 

The ProtOn project will bring a ground-breaking innovation in the field of IF, both in product-technological and infant-nutritional sense. In addition, this novel ProtOn concept reduces the contribution of dairy protein sources in favor of more vegetal protein sources. 

The outcomes of this project will contribute to and support the future registration and use of the first IF product comprising a dairy/vegetal protein hybrid (new within the EU), which may be targeted for an at risk (infant) population, in order to help to fight the overweight and obesity pandemic by achieving growth characteristics in the concept IF-fed infants to become closer to those of breastfed infants.