Vitafoods Insights is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Using AI to supercharge ingredient discovery and product bioavailability

Article-Using AI to supercharge ingredient discovery and product bioavailability

©iStock/Levia Using AI to supercharge ingredient discovery and product bioavailability
Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to supercharge ingredient discovery and unlock new product capabilities – but a holistic approach and rigorous evaluation are crucial to realising its benefits.

That was the message from experts speaking last month at a Vitafoods Insights webinar on bioavailability and delivery systems.

Dr Sun-Ho Frank Kim, president of SEAH bio solution, a Korean biotechnology company that creates strategic solutions for the nutrition and healthcare market, outlined the potential of AI to “revolutionise” the nutraceutical industry.

Meanwhile, Aarthi Janakiraman, research director at market intelligence consultancy Frost and Sullivan, explored its role in helping to create delivery technologies capable of ensuring the stability, bioavailability, and efficacy of nutraceutical products.

“The last five years have seen a unique explosion of the availability of delivery technologies for various nutraceutical formulations,” she said. “The Covid-19 aftermath has also resulted in exploration of techniques that are used in biotech, life sciences, and [the] pharma industry for nutraceutical and functional foods and beverages.”

Accelerating ingredient discovery with the power of AI and bioinformatics

During his presentation, Kim introduced NaturaPredicta, a prediction model for botanical ingredients that uses AI and bioinformatics to identify attributes such as efficacy and functionality.

The process of uncovering bioactive compounds within such ingredients has traditionally been labour-intensive and time-consuming. NaturaPredicta, in contrast, leverages natural language processing (NLP) techniques that are based on a deep learning algorithm applied to the PubMed database.

This offers a novel approach to nutraceutical development, wherein AI streamlines the discovery process, accelerating new ingredient and formulation discoveries, and reducing the time and cost required to develop healthy and functional ingredients, Kim argued.

His team used NaturaPredicta – for which a patent is pending – to study peanut, ginger, and curcumin. These ingredients are known for their use in traditional Korean medicine for addressing chronic diseases linked to metabolic syndrome; the researchers sought to identify those with high nutraceutical potential.

Their findings provide efficacy predictions for various health claims linked to each botanical, Kim said.

However, he sounded a note of caution, adding: “It is important to remember that these plants are not composed of a single component, but rather a complex matrix of components. And so their efficacies are connected to the cross-interactions of natural products.”

Taking a holistic approach to ingredient development was crucial, as this will be pivotal in maximising the efficacy of nutraceuticals based on whole-food activity, he explained.

Consumer demand for innovative delivery systems continues to grow

Janakiraman said that consumer demand for innovative product formats was presenting developers with new challenges.

“One of the key trends which we are noticing is pill fatigue,” she said. “And this pill fatigue is driving innovation in terms of different dosage formats, with gummies or chewables and other product formats, which have been gaining in popularity in the last two to three years.

“And this change or transition in focus from oral formats, which are more traditional, to ... novel product formats across demographics [has] also kind of given way to various challenges in formulation as well as reformulation of nutraceutical products.”

Stability is an especially important consideration in the context of bioactives and naturally derived ingredients, Janakiraman explained, as these are unstable once isolated from their source and tend to degrade over time.

With regards to bioavailability, she highlighted the role of delivery technologies in maximising products’ benefits by enhancing the stability, release, and delivery of bioactive compounds.

Novel delivery formats: Nanoencapsulation, nano-emulsions, liposomes, and more

She said that while conventional techniques, such as freeze drying, were still popular among product developers, micro- and nanoencapsulation are “quickly becoming the industry's choice of delivery system”, thanks to their help in stabilisation control and the release and delivery of compounds.

Other techniques gaining in popularity include liposomes and nanoemulsions, such as bilayer phospholipid vesicles. The latter “can encapsulate both hydrophilic as well as lipophilic materials and hence they can give product developers and formulators a wider choice of nutraceutical compounds”.

Janakiraman also touched upon surface modification techniques and combination systems such as multilayer emulsions, wherein multiple layers of different materials are assembled on top of an existing delivery system; these can increase the bioavailability or stability of nutraceutical products.

However, with many other elements that can undermine the effectiveness of an encapsulation system, including the choice of carrier material, evaluating them to ensure bioavailability as well as efficacy is “critical”.

“We are increasingly dependent on like digital technologies or AI models or even predictive analytics and use of virtual simulation techniques,” she said. These allow us to predict the characteristics of a material as well as analyse its behavioural patterns and interactions.

Janakiraman added: “These technologies can help in providing better choice of delivery system.”

Choice of delivery system can ‘make or break a nutraceutical product’

Both speakers agreed that by harnessing AI's predictive capabilities, the industry can unlock new frontiers in product efficacy, stability, and consumer acceptance.

Ultimately, there is no universal delivery technology that can provide the industry with a “one-stop solution”, Janakiraman said. She argued that the key was to make sure to match functional characteristics to the desired end benefits of the delivery technology.

However, the choice of delivery system can “make or break a nutraceutical product and is directly one of the key contributing factors for a success of any nutraceutical formulation”, she added.

Kim said AI technology was “continuously evolving” and that its application in business was “a journey that is still unfolding”.

He added: “In the biomedical realm, we are at the dawn of a new era where AI becomes a partner, working in harmony with scientific discovery. For nutraceuticals, our task is very clear. To harness AI’s full potential, we must develop the comprehensive insights that will pave the way for new business developments.”