LINCOLN, Neb. -- Developing a new cholesterol-lowering food additive made from Nebraska-grown ingredients is the aim of a partnership between the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a regional beef company.

UNL and Beef Products Inc. have signed an agreement that could lead to commercialization of a cholesterol-lowering compound made from beef tallow and soybeans. Tim Carr, a nutrition scientist in the university's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, invented the compound, which the university is patenting.

Under the agreement, BPI will provide $500,000 to fund a human clinical study of the tallow/soybean compound's cholesterol-lowering power, slated to begin in mid-May. If the compound proves effective, BPI has the option to commercialize it for food applications under a university agreement.

The compound, which performed well in animal studies, is the outgrowth of Carr's basic research on fats' roles in heart disease.

Soybeans and other plants contain sterols, which scientists have long known reduce cholesterol. Tallow is a rich source of stearic acid, a saturated fat. Carr's research revealed that stearic acid actually lowers cholesterol.

Exploring ways to put this "good-guy" fat to work, Carr devised a way to blend specific amounts of stearic acid with plant sterols.

"Combining the two actually boosts the cholesterol-lowering power," he said.

Carr's compound outperformed commercially available plant sterol-based food additives in three hamster studies. It lowered LDL, or bad, cholesterol as much as 79 percent compared to about 10 percent reduction with commercial plant sterol additives. It also appeared to work at least as well as widely prescribed cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

The tallow/soybean-based compound, like plant sterol food additives, works by blocking cholesterol absorption in the small intestine. Typically, the body absorbs 50-60 percent of cholesterol in the intestinal tract.

Excess cholesterol winds up in blood where it can contribute to heart disease. Carr's combination reduces absorption to around 5 percent or less.

"The beauty of this is that our compound passes right through the gastrointestinal tract and takes cholesterol with it," Carr said. "It's a dietary supplement, not a drug, and it's never absorbed into the body so there are no toxicity issues or side effects."

The human clinical trial to test the compound's effectiveness is expected to begin in mid-May in cooperation with MDS Pharma Services of Lincoln. Initial results are expected by fall.

"This study is a key step toward commercialization," said Dipanjan Nag, senior licensing manager for technology development at UNL. Results will allow the university to license the beef tallow-plant sterol compound as a food additive to BPI, which could quickly make it available to consumers.

"When we learned of Dr. Carr's innovation in a scientific magazine, the possibilities for BPI's involvement in promoting his efforts were very evident," said Eldon Roth, founder and Chief Executive Officer of BPI. "As the leading producer of high quality, stearic acid compound used in this process, BPI is the right partner to be working with Dr. Carr and UNL to further this research."

"I'm excited about the potential of this for consumers looking to manage their cholesterol," Carr concluded.

BPI, based at Dakota Dunes, S.D., is the world's leading manufacturer of boneless beef, with plants in four states. The largest is in South Sioux City, Neb.

SOURCE: University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.