An ambitious $40 million effort at the University of Nebraska aims at our gut to improve our health.
The Nebraska Food for Health Center will tap into the university’s strength in agriculture and medicine to research the gut microbiome to better understand how what we eat affects a wide range of illnesses.
Director Andrew Benson says disruptions in the microbiome are associated with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, even mental disorders.
“So being able to use diet as a strategy to mitigate, to prevent that from happening and/or to treat that is a complete turnaround from how we are thinking medically about treating those diseases today,” Benson tells Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview.
The University of Nebraska Board of Regents still must formally approve the center.
The center plans to bring together a research team to tie gastrointestinal and biomedical research to agriculture, plant and animal breeding and genetics, according to the university. It will involve the Lincoln, Omaha, and University of Nebraska Medical Center campuses.
It plans to produce food, both through crop and livestock research, which will address the abnormalities in the gut microbiome, potentially harmful micro-organisms in the digestive system that can affect our health.
The center also wants to prepare students for careers in food health.
Benson, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln Department of Food Science and Technology, says the center has the support of the university administration, its donors, and the Raikes Foundation of Seattle.
“That in and of itself is very empowering and is very invigorating and really represents a new mindset and a new way of thinking about just what this university is and what we can do with it,” according to Benson.
The Raikes Foundation, co-founded by Nebraska native Jeff Raikes and his wife, Tricia, has provided a $3 million gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation, which includes a $1 million challenge grant. Raikes is the former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has donated $2 million to the project.
Raikes had a nearly 30-year career at Microsoft in which he was a senior leader and president of the Microsoft Business Division.
Proposed financing of the center includes $19.8 million from the university over five years, plus $20.5 million in private donations. The gifts from the Raikes and Gates foundations provide startup funds for equipment needs and operational priorities. The Food Innovation Center at Nebraska Innovation Campus will host the center’s office.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1 min.]