Food engineer Dr Valentina Stojceska is using the explosion in interest in gluten-free diets to help coeliac disease sufferers, manufacturers and the NHS.
Explained Dr Stojceska, of Brunel University London’s Institute of Energy Futures: “I’ve now begun a project with national charity Coeliac UK which means my work now involves the complete product cycle from factory to consumer.
“The worldwide surge in interest in gluten-free diets has fueled a huge upsurge in the range of variety of “free from” foods available.
“But is has been a double-edged sword for those living with coeliac disease, the one in 100 who have a proven allergy to gluten, the protein in wheat and other grains.
“On one hand they have far greater choice but on the other the NHS is, in some areas of the country, limiting the range and number of products available on prescription.
“With a major gluten-free manufacturer I am working to develop better gluten-free products and ingredients which in turn are taste, smell and texture tested under controlled conditions by coeliac patients through Coeliac UK which will then help the NHS decide which should be available on prescription.”
Traditionally gluten-free alternatives were only available via pharmacies and were dramatically more expensive than mainstream foods.
The massive rise in their popularity has led to a huge increase in the range of products available giving the NHS a headache and in many parts of the country only those on an approved list are prescribed.
Said Dr Stojceska: “Coeliac patients need gluten-free products as avoiding all gluten is the only way to manage their condition.
“As the NHS spends £30million on them each year it makes sense only for the NHS to support products which are widely accepted by those with coeliac disease.”
Her collaboration with industry has also opened the door to the practical application of two of her other areas of research interests – cutting energy use in the food supply chain and re-purposing food waste - as part of the Brunel-based and Research Councils UK-funded Centre for Sustainable Energy Use in Food Chains.
She added: “While it was my background in food engineering that led to the initial work with industry that has now snowballed into working on sustainability issues.
“A one-thing-leads-to-another approach is a very effective model for academics looking to work with industry.”