The 17th International Conference of Functional Food Center (FFC) and 5th International Symposium of Academic Society for Functional Food and Bioactive Components (ASFFBC) were both held on November 18 – 19, 2014 at University of San Diego, San Diego, California, USA. The 17th International conference, entitled “Discovery, Utilization and Control of Bioactive Components and Functional Foods”, was jointly organized by the FFC, USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) ARS (Agricultural Research Service), and ASFFBC.


The conference brought together expertise from the realm of functional foods from all over the world. Like others, this conference was a success as we saw scientists and industry experts from about thirty countries gathered at San Diego, and participating in intriguing discussions on a variety of topics in conference sessions. The USDA deserves special mention here. They not only lent a hand in organization but also brought an excellent team of speakers with them. Among the most appriciated for active participation in the Panel Discussion Session, and for their substantive presentations, were Pamela Starke-Reed, PhD; Lisa Dean, PhD; Mark Berhow, PhD; Sean Liu, PhD; Mukti Singh, PhD; Meena Somanchi, PhD; and Frederick C. Felker, PhD. We thank the USDA for its highly professional support and hope to continue working with them in the future.


Theconference was opened by a welcome speech by Danik M. Martirosyan, PhD. Dr. Martirosyan talked about the importance of the conference and the reason to discuss discovery, utilization, and control of bioactive components and functional foods. He started his speech with the discussion of the "Functional Food Definition" according to the FFC. The FFC defines functional foods as “natural or processed foods that contain known or unknown biologically-active compounds; which, in defined amounts, provide a clinically proven and documented health benefit for the prevention, management, or treatment of chronic disease”. He mentioned that the present definition was accepted by the audience and participants at the 10th International Conference of FFC at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The definition put forward by the FFC is different compared to other definitions, accentuating bioactive compounds as the central part of functional food. There can be one or many bioactive compounds in a given functional food. Researchers are trying to find out the relationship in which they work together to be effective. Dr. Martirosyan added another important concept in the definition: the importance of the amount of bioactive compound(s) to convert an ordinary food into a functional food. Different amounts of bioactive compounds work in different situations. Sometimes too much bioactive compound in a food can be toxic. In general, a “physiologic intake range of bioactive compounds is regarded as safe. Concerning supraphysiological or pharmacological doses, safety aspects and health benefits must be documented”. Therefore, it is crucial to have a thorough discussion on the use and control of bioactive compounds and functional foods.

The conference program involved 8 inspiring sessions including 7 sessions of oral presentations and one final session of poster presentations. The session topics are as follows:

Session 1: “Functional Food Ingredients and Bioactive Compounds: Sources and Potential Benefits in Public Health” - chaired by Bruce P. Burnett, PhD.

Session 2: “Discovery of Bioactive Components” - chaired by Mark Berhow, PhD.

Session 3: “Legislation on Health Claims: Healthy, Functional and Medical Foods” - chaired by Marvin Hausman, MD.

Session 4: “Functional and Medical Foods for the Management of Chronic Diseases” - chaired by Prof. Garth L. Nicolson.

Session 5: “The Effects of Bioactive Compounds on Biomarkers and Delivery in Every Day Foods and Beverages” - chaired by Kristberg Kristbergsson.

Session 6: “Dairy Functional Foods” - chaired by Meena Somanchi.

Session 7: “Research and Development of New Functional Food Products” - chaired by Danik Martirosyan.

Session 8: Poster Presentations

Th following report shows the various presentations from the 17th International Conference of Functional Food Center.

Pamela Starke-Reed, PhD, Deputy Administrator in the Office of National Programs, USDA, gave a talk on “Functional Foods Research in the Agricultural Research Service”. She initiated her talk on the Research, Education, and Economics divisions of the USDA, and then highlighted the ARS and its mission. She discussed some basics of functional food and ways to enhance the food, while shedding light on needed research of ‘Functional Foods”. She then discussed various goals of the National Human Nutrition Program Action Plans NP107 and NP 306. Ongoing research projects in ARS National Program were also included. She ended her discussion by mentioning an interesting DRI nomination process for updating “dietary reference intakes”. The process has been started by 10 US and Canadian staff representing the USDA, ODPHP, NIH, FDA, and Health Canada, and will do systemic reviews and evaluations of nutrients.

Lisa Dean, PhD, Market Quality and Handling Research Unit, USDA ARS, Raleigh, NC, USA presented on "Extracts from Peanut Skins Increase Levels of Bioactivity in Peanut Paste and Milk Chocolate". Lisa did a great job in testing the under-utilized peanut skins left after the blanching process of peanuts. Peanut skins are well known for their antioxidant property. Lisa’s team has already showed the anti-inflammatory effects of peanut skins in cell systems, and in this study, they have found a way to convert peanut skins into a functional food by spray drying. They also optimized the amount added to peanut paste and milk chocolate, that would increase their antioxidant power with minimal impact on flavor.

Ramzi Mothana, PhD, Professor, Department of Pharmacognosy, College of Pharmacy, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia gave an interesting oral presentation on "Plectranthus barbatus: A Source of Antiprotozoal, Antileishmanial and Antitrypanosomal Abietane Diterpenoid Compounds". His research addresses a solution to major public health issues: malaria, leishmaniasis, and human African trypanosomiasis. His research group isolated ten abietane-type diterpenes from the aerial part of Plectranthus barbatus that showed antiprotozoal activity against P.falciparum, L. infantum, T. brucei and T.cruzi. His study added further evidence that medicinal plants are an important source of bioactive compounds. These natural bioactive compounds are usually more potent and have fewer side-effects than prevailing chemical drug treatments.

Mark Berhow, PhD, USDA ARS, Functional Foods Research Unit, National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, IL, USA presented Discovery and Bioassay of Bioactive Compounds from Camelina and Other Plants”. Dr. Berhow planned to redirect the potential of phytochemical and chemical components of underutilized weedy crops and byproducts from agricultural processing for more profitable and useful purposes, such as treating chronic diseases, controlling pests, etc. Along with his team, he uses mass spectrometry and NMR to determine the molecular weight, atomic composition, and chemical structure of the chromatography-separated compounds. The biological activity of the compounds is then determined by a series of bioassays or pest control evaluations. The purified bioactive components can work alone or in combination against diseases or pests.

Christina B. Wegener, PhD, Julius Kuehn Institute, Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Resistance Research and Stress Tolerance, Sanitz, Germany presented Bioactive Compounds in Potatoes: Their Accumulation Under Drought Stress Conditions”. In their experiment, Dr. Wegener’s group initiated the drought stress conditions on three potato genotypes and measured antioxidant activity in tubers by the photochemiluminescent method. They also checked the amount of soluble phenols, proteins, POD, and LAH activity by UV photometer and free amino acids by liquid chromatography. The results showed that there was significant increases in the level of soluble proteins, LAH and free amino acids (especially proline). The data can be exploited to derive health benefits of potato tubers under stress.

Bruce P. Burnett, PhD, Senior Director of Compliance, Medical and Regulatory Affairs, Entera Health, Inc., Cary, NC, USA presented “A New Regulatory Threat for Food and Nutrition Clinical Research in the United States”. His presentation focused on a recent change in guidance to institutional review boards (IRBs), regarding what tested agents require an investigational new drug application (IND). This change has the potential to affect functional food or any nutritional ingredient research in humans. The new FDA guidelines require sponsors and clinical investigators to file an IND before the start of any human research on a nutritional ingredient. This occurs in the same way that investigators file for a new chemical drug, if the food or ingredient is being tested for its effect on any structure, function or marker in the body. Dr. Burnett sees this regulation as a threat to food and ingredient research in that it may inhibit new nutritional research initiatives, since IND filings are costly and time-consuming for the companies, as well as university researchers. It is not even clear if a food or complex food ingredient could qualify under an IND, since the components of the food or ingredient(s) may not be able to be completely characterized for the chemistry, manufacturing, and controls (CMC) requirements applied to new drugs, which usually only contain one or two components. This guidance has already had a chilling effect on nutrition research around the country.

Sonja Brandenburger, PhD Candidate, Department of Nutrition, Food and Consumer Studies, University of Applied Sciences, Fulda, Hesse, Germany presented research on a Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR) entitled “European Health Claims for Small and Medium-Sized Companies – Utopian Dream or Future Reality?”. Sonja and his group analyzed the opportunities and strengths of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the European food and drink market based on the discussions held in NHCR. The analysis suggests publishing of a new European Union Register of Nutrition and Health Claims as a most promising opportunity, and the false investment followed by financial loss as the biggest threat. There is a possibility for high competition in the European food and drink market due to the health claims SMEs offer.

Marotta Francesco, PhD, MD, Professor, ReGenera Research Group for Aging Intervention, Milan, Italy presented “A Novel Application of a Fermented Nutraceutical in Acute Respiratory Illnesses:  An In-vivo, Placebo-controlled, Cross-over Clinical Study in Different Age-groups of Healthy Subjects”. Dr. Franceso reported the results of a clinical trial conducted in 90 sedentary healthy patients who were given fermented papaya preparation or placebos for a month. The results clearly showed higher salivary IgA, increased expression of phase II enzymes, and also increased expression of the most important respiratory tract antioxidant: SOD enzymes.  

Alexander G. Schauss, PhD, Senior Research Director and CEO, Natural and Medicinal Products Research, AIBMR Life Sciences, Inc., Puyallup, WA, USA gave a presentation on “The Effect of UroxTM (Crateva, Horsetail and Lindera Herbal Combination) in the Treatment of Overactive Bladder and Urinary Incontinence: A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial in Men and Women”. Dr. Schauss’s work addresses the problem of overactive bladder (OAB) and urinary incontinence (UI). The present statistics show that approximately 33 and 26 million Americans are affected by OAB and UI, respectively. Presently, both conditions show limited response to drugs and medical treatments available, because of adverse side effects. Herbal treatments with better efficacy and negligible side effects are available, but take a long time to show their effects. Dr. Schauss and his group designed a two month randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to study the effect of Urox (an herbal formula) on OAB and UI. Urox showed statistically significant results; the patients get relief in as little as two weeks without any adverse events.

Marvin Hausman, MD, Entia Biosciences, Inc., Sherwood, OR, USA pointed out the importance of mushrooms in his presentation “Treatment of Anemia with a Natural Mushroom-based Medical Food ErgoD2”. Hausman’s group tested a natural mushroom based functional food ErgoD2 (formulated by Entia Biosciences) in a 4-month clinical trial consisting of twenty diabetic patients. They concluded that ErgoD2 medical food may be able to naturally redistribute iron stores by reducing iron overload in some tissues, while increasing iron availability in the blood. Their conclusion was based on the results of trial: elevated blood-iron levels, reduced TIBC, and increased percent iron saturation.

Garth L. Nicolson, PhD, Professor, Department of Molecular Pathology, Institute for Molecular Medicine, Huntington Beach, CA, USA drew our attention to the importance of dynamicity of bio-membranes in his compelling presentation “Update of the Singer-Nicolson Fluid-Mosaic Model of Membrane Structure: Its Importance in Functional Food Modification of Cellular Membranes and Function in Chronic Disease”. In this presentation, Dr. Nicolson described the Fluid Mosaic Membrane Model with a new angle, by emphasizing  various interactions occurring both within and outside the membrane. These interactions (lipid-lipid, protein-protein, lipid-protein, as well as cell-matrix, cell-cell, and cytoskeletal) are very important for maintaining the function of the cell. Dr. Nicolson further reviewed the use of the functional food NTFactor® as a lipid replacement therapy. In various studies NTFactor came out to be a safe method to correct the damage of membrane lipids, and also to alleviate the effects of anti-microbial and anti-cancer therapies.

Kristberg Kristbergsson, PhD, Professor, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, School of Health Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland presented “Effect of Particle Size and Gelatin Coating on the Stability of Liposome Delivery Systems for Bioactives”. With the goal of increasing the liposome stability during drug or food delivery process, Dr. Kristbergsson and her team used cold water fish gelatin as a coating of liposomes using the layer by layer electrostatic dispositioning method and showed it to be effective to make liposomes stable. 

Sean Liu, PhD, Research Leader, USDA ARS, Functional Foods Research Unit, IL, USA presented “Functional Beverage Products Using Caseinate - Omega-3 Oil-Oat Beta Glucan Emulsions”. Dr. Liu’s presentation addresses the issue to incorporate soluble fiber in omega-3 oil without interfering with the oil’s oxidative stability. His group formulated stable omega-3 oil with soluble dietary fiber by optimizing the concentrations of oat gum and caseinate.

After the sessions, there was a panel discussion on the definition of functional foods and bioactive compounds. The panelists were Marvin Hausman, MD; Bruce P. Burnett, PhD; Pamela Starke-Reed, PhD; Marotta Francesco, PhD, MD; Garth L. Nicolson, PhD, Professor; Robert B. Beelman, PhD, Professor; Mark Berhow, PhD; Sean Liu, PhD; and Danik M. Martirosyan, PhD. During the discussion, the NAFDAC participants from Nigeria provided an excellent theme on the definition. The definition of “functional foods”, according to Functional Food Center, Dallas, TX, USA can be seen at our home page. We accepted the present definition by a thorough discussion held on at the 11th International Conference at University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA. From the panel discussion, we saw many schools of thoughts on the definition, so we ask that you review our definition, and send us ideas if you think it needs revision.

The conference was closed with the distribution of awards and membership certificates of the Academic Society for Functional Foods and Bioactive Compounds. We are pleased to announce that teams from the USDA, NAFDAC, Nigeria, and GS Biomedical Research Institute (Japan) were awarded the “Introduction to Functional Food Science” textbook for their excellent performance in the conference.

Overall, the 17th International Conference of Functional Food Center was a great opportunity to meet people with a shared goal: to promote, discuss, and improve functional foods and bioactive components in terms of their sources, discovery, utilization, and control. We are confident that the conference gave you exposure through knowledgeable lectures and thought-provoking discussions, and also by interacting with experienced professionals. We hope you left the conference more informed and experienced. We believe that it is very important to continue such conferences to be progressive in the field of functional foods. By looking back at the conference discussions with the USDA and other members, our suggestion is for continued discussion on the importance of safety issues of bioactive compounds in the upcoming conferences.

We will also take this opportunity to announce our next international conference. The final dates are November 17-18, 2015, at Kobe University. Kobe University, a leading national university in Japan, will be the venue. We look forward to your participation next year in the conference, which will hold exciting presentations from research and industry leaders, and also opportunities for intense personal interaction.